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Venetian Cities of Crete in Artvoice

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Director of Gennadius Library in Athens to Speak at the Burchfield Penney
Read the article by Anthony Chase in Artvoice

On Tuesday, Dr. Maria Georgopoulou, director of the Gennadius Library in Athens, Greece, will speak in the Burchfield Penney Art Center Auditorium at 5pm. Her topic, “The Venetian Cities of Crete,” pulls together several fascinating facets of Mediterranean history.

The Gennadius Library itself is intriguing. One of the most important libraries in Greece, the collection includes more than 110,000 volumes on Greek history, literature, and art from antiquity until modern times.

Corresponding by email, Georgopoulou, director of the famed library since 2004, talks about the collection and the reason for her visit to Buffalo.

“I have been invited by [Buffalo State Art History] Professor Harriet Blitzer who comes to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, home to the Gennadius Library, frequently. My lecture on the Venetian cities of Crete will be part of a series on cities that the university is hosting this year.”

That series is Buffalo State’s “Year of the City” celebration. Georgopoulou will also present a lecture at NYU’s Classics Department.

“The Gennadius Library,” Georgopoulou continues, “is one of the libraries of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. It was founded in 1926 to house the book collection of Joannes Gennadius (1844-1932), the Greek ambassador to London, who assembled a collection of rare materials.

“Today, the Gennadius is an academic library used by professors and graduate students as well as the general public. It is one of the best-known libraries in Athens, specializing in history and the humanities with a focus on post-classical Greece. We have about six or seven thousand visits per year. The library also sponsors a lecture series of about one lecture per month, gives out fellowships for graduate students and other scholars, organizes symposia, exhibitions, a summer school for medieval Greek language, and publishes an annual journal and occasional monographs on topics related to the materials of the library.”

Interestingly, Ambassador Gennadius had originally given items from his astonishing collection to the National Library of Greece, but was offended when, a few years later, the library had made no attempt to commemorate his generosity. When American scholars approached him with the idea of founding a dedicated facility for his collection in Greece, the Gennadius was born. The neoclassical library building was actually constructed with funds from the Carnegie Corporation and is supported, according to Georgopoulou, “by the revenues of a robust endowment that the school and its trustees established back in the 1930s.”

Georgopoulou’s lecture will focus on a remarkable period of Mediterranean history.

“I will explore the urban landscape of the Venetian cities of Crete from 1211 to 1669,” she explains. “I am interested in the way in which the architecture and urbanism was manipulated by the Venetian colonizers to provide a sturdy basis on which they build their colonial presence. The Republic of Venice is a fascinating example of a sophisticated medieval culture in terms of politics, trade, architecture, and record-keeping. In many ways, Venice was an extremely sophisticated, modern state where pragmatism was paramount.”

While the subject may seem arcane to some, to Georgopoulou, the period is vivid and represents the passion of a lifetime.

“Since I was a child, I loved to travel and having grown up in Athens I have always been intrigued by the various cultures of the Mediterranean and how they interacted,” she says. “The island of Crete represents a wonderful example of the interaction of cultures; it is a meeting point between East and West. In addition to a multitude of monuments, the state archives of Venice have preserved numerous archival documents that give us amazing information on the culture.”

While travel is a passion for Dr. Georgopoulou, she confides that she has never been to Buffalo before, but she looks upon the opportunity with characteristic inquisitiveness. “No, I have never been to Buffalo! I look forward to exploring the city and its landmarks.”

With support from the art history program of the Buffalo State Fine Arts Department, the office of the dean of Arts and Humanities, and the Margaret Bacon fund, the lecture by Georgopoulou is free and open to the public, and begins at 5pm on Tuesday, March 19.

In addition to being Artvoice’s theater editor, Anthony Chase is the assistant dean of Arts and Humanities at Buffalo State and has a peculiar fascination with medieval Venice.