- Nikos Engonopoulos
- Erotokritos and Aretousa
- signed and dated 69 lower right
- oil on canvas
- 55 by 45cm., 21¾ by 17¾in.
Nikos Engonopoulos, L'homme est le mesure de toute chose, Athens, 2005, p. 27, illustrated
Dimitris Vlachidomos, Lire le passé dans Engonopoulos, Athens, 2006, p. 112, pl. 20, illustrated
Katerina Perpinioti Agazir, Nikos Engonopoulos - His pictorial universe, Benaki Museum, Athens, 2007, no. 950, pp. 359 & 502, illustrated
Erotokritos is undoubtedly the masterpiece of Cretan literature. It is an epic romance in verses composed by Vikentios Kornaros, considered the greatest of all Cretan poets and one of the most significant of Greek poetry, in Crete in the early 17th century. The plot revolves around the love story between Erotokritos, the son of the fictional King Iraklis' advisor, and Aretousa, the King's daughter.
A disguised Erotokritos sings songs of love under Aretousa's window, night after night, eventually capturing her heart. Under duress, Erotokritos and his friend Polidoros kill bodyguards of the king to avoid arrest, and flee to the city of Egripos. Aretousa discovers the identity of her singing suitor during a visit to his father's home, and grieves deeply. King Iraklis stages a jousting match to cheer his love-sick daughter, which Erotokritos participates in and wins, accepting the prize from his beloved. Erotokritos asks Iraklis for Aretousa's hand in marriage through his father; subsequently, his father is shamefully dismissed, the offer refused and Aretousa thrown with her nurse into a dungeon. The tides turn when a magically disguised Erotokritos returns to his homeland to battle the armies of the Vlahian invader, Vlahias, and saves the life of Iraklis. Erotokritos is the victor in a duel against Vlahias' nephew, Aristos, but is severely wounded, and is sent to Aretousa to convalesce. Erotokritos recovers under Aretousa's care, and refuses half of the kingdom, as offered by the grateful Iraklis, asking only for his beloved's hand in marriage. This wish is granted, Erotokritos reveals his face to his bride-to-be, and the lovers are married and take the throne.
In the present work, Engonopoulos pays homage to the richness of Greek literature in the form of its greatest epic poem, illustrated in the graceful figures of the lovers. The stage-like interior with a view onto cypresses and the Mediterranean, reflects Engonopoulos' interest in set design. His figures are placed within an 'enigmatic system of poetic metaphor, based on classicistic compositional structure' (Haris Kambouridis and George Levounis, Modern Greek Art of the 20th Century: The Complete Guide to the Collections of the Rhodes Municipality Modern Greek Art Museum, Athens, 1999, p. 116). In the present work, the faceless figures in this commemoration represent the people of modern Greece within a traditional and uniquely Greek frame of reference.
A student of Parthenis at the School of Fine Art in Athens, Engonopoulos is considered the founder of surrealism in Greek art. In his imagery, the association of reality and myth, classical and modern, embodies the preoccupations of modern Greece through the subconscious. As Niki Loizidi notes, 'Engonopoulos gave [Greece] one version of surrealism, universal, but at the same time deeply rooted in Greekness' (Niki Loizidi, cited in Kambouridis and Levounis, ibid., p. 116).