1600 – Simonas Petras by Edward Lear 1856

simpet 1856

Just recently Tate Britain put this very nice drawing by Edward Lear (1812–1888) on their website. Watch the tiny Monk on his way up.

The inscription is  ‘Simopetra [in Greek letters]/11.Sept. 1856’ in ink bottom right, and with notes of colour, vegetation etc. in pencil and ink in various places; 
It is a Watercolour and pen and red-brown ink over slight pencil outlines, on paper.
The watercolour was drawn during Lear’s tour of Mount Athos in August–September 1856. Mount Athos  Lear had already made two tours of Greece, in 1848 and 1849, but on each of these had been disappointed of his wish to visit Mount Athos. He returned to Greece in the autumn of 1855. In August 1856, attended by his newly-recruited Suliot servant Georgio (who was to remain in Lear’s service for twenty-six years), he set off on a tour of the monasteries of Mount Athos which lasted nearly two months.

The tour proved arduous and debilitating (first Georgio, then Lear himself fell ill with fever), but Lear succeeded in making drawings of all the twenty principal monasteries and many of their dependencies, and of the landscape; according to Angus Davidson (Edward Lear, 2nd ed., 1950, p.98), he made fifty drawings in all.  A larger watercolour view of Simopetra, taken from along the coast and showing a side view of the monastery, overlooking the Aegean on its right, is in a private collection, England. The rest of the Mount Athos drawings are now variously dispersed.

A companion Journal of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria was published in 1852. Davidson notes that Lear had intended to publish a similar volume of his tour of Mount Athos. That he did not pursue this project may have been due to his ambivalent feelings about the monasteries, thus expressed in a letter to Chichester Fortescue (quoted by Davidson, op.cit., pp.97–8): ‘However wondrous and picturesque the exterior & interior of the monasteries, and however abundantly and exquisitely glorious and stupendous the scenery of the mountain, I would not go again to Ayios Oros for any money, so gloomy, so shockingly unnatural, so lying, so unatoneably odious seems to me all the atmosphere of such monkery…muttering, miserable, mutton-hating, man-avoiding, misogynic, morose and merriment-marring, monotoning, many-mule-making, mocking, mournful, minced-fish and marmalade-masticating Monx. Poor old pigs!’

Although I like his work very much I don’t share his  critisism on staying on the Holy mountain. But it is funny to read. In 2013 I made this picture of Simonas Petras from the boat to Kavsokalivia. Watch the pilgrim monks on the foreground!

simpet 2013


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