NEW YORK – The Program in Hellenic Studies at Columbia University and The Consulate General of Greece in New York hosted a lecture by Dr. Theodoros Koutsogiannis- Curator, Art Collection of the Hellenic Parliament on October 2. Entitled “Views of Athens in America: Greek-Revival Architecture and the Iconic Athenian Models,” the lecture offered fascinating insights into the phenomenon of Greek-Revival architecture, especially its American manifestations, and the visual, architectural as well as cultural and ideological references to their iconic Athenian models.
Although Athens was considered the cultural capital of the ancient world and the artistic model for the West, “the mother of arts and philosophy” as Cicero put it, actual ancient remains in the city of Athens did not contribute significantly in shaping the artistic and architectural development of the Renaissance because of the Ottoman occupation. The city had to wait for the travelers of the “Grand Tour” and the continually burgeoning antiquarianism of the 18th century, in order to participate in the artistic movement of Neoclassicism. It was the depiction of Athenian antiquities in illustrated editions that played a crucial role in the diffusion of Athens’ image.
Furthermore, a series of architects employed such editions as “model books” for the formulation of individual motifs and even entire facades in their own neoclassical works of architecture. Stuart and Revett’s monumental edition The Antiquities of Athens, in particular, became a reference work for neoclassical architects, especially for those who adopted the so-called Greek-Revival style. A great many public buildings in England and Scotland, Bavaria and Prussia in Germany, as well as the United States – especially in East Coast cities – make direct stylistic references to Athenian monuments.
Slides highlighted the lecture and clearly showed how artists used their imagination to depict the monuments when travel to Greece was not as accessible. Later more accurate drawings shown side by side with fanciful paintings emphasized the fact that artists could not resist the powerful inspiration of the ancient, classical ideals.
The Athenian monuments continued to inspire artists and architects throughout the Greek-Revival period about 1820-1860 and well into the 20th century and even today. The examples from Western Europe and the United States clearly demonstrated the impulse to connect and identify with the birthplace of democracy in the government buildings, statehouses, and courthouses with their impressive columns inspired by the Parthenon, among other Athenian monuments. Financial institutions, banks and exchanges were also built in many cities in the classical style. Churches in the UK and the United States also incorporated classical elements, some more successfully than others. Designed by architect James Gamble Rogers, the Butler Library (1934) at Columbia University is a classic example of Greek Revival architecture.
Director of the Program in Hellenic Studies and Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University Dr. Ioannis Mylonopoulos gave the welcoming remarks and introduced Dr. Koutsogiannis noting his achievements, many fellowships and grants, and his position as the Curator of the Hellenic Parliament’s Art Collection since 2009. Dr. Mylonopoulos and Dr. Koutsogiannis also participated in a Q&A session following the lecture.
Among those present Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, Consul of Greece Spyridoula-Ioanna Zochiou, C.E. Salboudis- Founder/CEO Philo4Thought HPM Inc., Ari and Marilena Christodoulou, community members, and Hellenic Studies Program students and faculty.