Portrait collection of the professors of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
In the past, portraits of professors at universities in Greece and abroad used to be commissioned right after their death. Thus, a relevant collection was created at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
This collection consists of original material, which, on the one hand, reflects the history of the university, and, on the other hand, represents the work of Greek artists who were interested in portrait making. The portraits of the professors of the Aristotle University constitute one of the most important parts of the university collection of works of art, whose compilation began in 1958 and which consists of paintings, sculptures, and engravings.
All portraits were made after the death of the professors and the fact that only photographs were available made the work of the artists even harder. Portraits were commissioned by the Rector’s Council, upon the relevant proposal of the competent art committee. For practical reasons, the possibility of conducting an open public tender process was not considered. However, the process of directly assigning the portrait to be made “demanded” that the committee be impartial and select a different artist every time. The fact that these portraits were intended for the main official space of the university, the Ceremony Hall, revealed the ideological significance attached to the collection, and indicated that the university was not only interested in honouring the members who had been directly linked to its history, but also in underlining its brilliant past, its present and its achievements over the years.
The power of the image
The portraits cover a period of about fifty years. Although the portrait of Alexandros Papanastasiou was made by Constantinos Parhenis in 1924 (it is one of the oldest in the collection and was donated to the university by the artist himself), the remaining portraits were made between 1932 and 1980.
Overall, there are 76 portraits of the founder of and the professors who taught at the Schools of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Four or five of these portraits were made before 1945. Fifty artists have made the portraits, among whom there are some of the most important Greek artists who belong to different generations and eras and who have used different techniques (Alekos Kontopoulos, Giorgos Bouzianis, Christos Karas, Dimitris Vitsioris, Spiros Vasileiou, Panagiotis Tetsis, Chronis Botsoglou, Dimitris Galanis, Orestis Kanelis, Fotis Kontoglou, Dimitris Mytaras, Yannis Moralis, Giorgos Gounaropoulos, etc.).
The collection also includes portraits made by older painters of Thessaloniki (Polykleitos Reggos, Christos Lefakis, Giorgos Paralis, Nikos Sachinis, Yannis Svoronos, Lucas Venetoulias, etc.). The quality of these works is not equal to that of other works, since they were made by artists who were not experts in portrait making.
The portraits of the collection, which constitute a single thematic unit, are to be examined taking into consideration the context of the university community within which they were created. The portraits were generally representational, aiming to portray professors as they were in real life. Most portraits combined academic elements, others realistic and impressionistic elements, while some others were influenced by art movements of the 20th century, such as expressionism and neo-realism. Regardless of quality, the collection is one of the most complete portrait collections in Greece, and at present it decorates the Ceremony Hall in the old building of the Faculty of Philosophy of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.