Konstantinos Volanakis
The burning of the Turkish flagship
oil on canvas
79 x 114 cm
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A burning two-decker ship with the Turkish flag flying on the collapsing stern mast is looming almost in the centre of the historical painting.

At the stern of the manned warship, the crew is depicted squashed together trying to abandon the ship and disembark on the boats in front of it, in the foreground. In the deep darkness, some sailors can be seen sliding down the ropes, while others are already in the boats.
On the ship’s starboard side, which is shown in full detail, the cannons can be seen lined up in two rows, and below them, alongside the middle of the ship, is the fire ship engulfed in flames. The second and third masts on the deck of the ship are hidden from the thick smoke disappearing into the sky.

Darkness is everywhere, except for the glow of the bright fire and the rays of moonlight far out to sea, where two more three-deckers can be faintly discerned in the midst of the undulating sea.

Volanakis’ narrative mood is strong and clear, aiming to convey the dramatic nature of the event and the intensity of the surrounding atmosphere with theatricality. Volanakis’ painter interpretation and his strong academic realism are evidence of his education at the Munich School and of his familiarity with similar seascape and historical representations.

The work of the Munich School painters is distinguished by excellent technique in the use of colour at the expense of expressiveness. Scenes depicted by the painters of academic realism have something grandiose and theatrical about them, although that does not mean a complete lack of emotion. In academic realism, the emphasis is on genre painting, i.e. the depiction of life in urban centres and, above all, in the countryside, with particular emphasis on the rendering of architecture, local garb and objects. Next comes portrait painting, landscape painting and finally still life.

Volanakis had painted other historical themes before returning to Greece, during his time in Munich, such as the works “The Naval Battle of Lissa” in 1868 and the “The Battle of Trafalgar” in 1877. Later, in 1882, he painted the “Naval Battle of Salamis”, which is now owned by the Navy, and in that same year he painted the “Burning of a Turkish Two-decker”, which belongs to the Hellenic Maritime Museum.

The work in the Laskaridis Collection, though much more recent (1890-1895), has many similarities with his 1882 work “The Burning of the Turkish Frigate” of the Hellenic Maritime Museum.


Marilena Z. Kassimati (curator), Constantinos Volanakis 1837-1907 Poet of the Sea, xxx.

Takis Mavrotas (curator), Constantinos Volanakis: The Father of Greek Seascape Painting, exhibition catalogue, B&M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts, Athens 2018, pp. 29, 138, 139 (The burning of a Turkish frigate).

Thodoris Koutsogiannis (curator), Constantinos Volanakis: Nostos of the Sea. Artworks from the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation collection, exhibition catalogue, Municipal Art Gallery of Chania, pp. 16,182-183, 188-189.


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