Christlike Depictions of Lord Byron in Paintings
A great poet, an adventurer, a lover and a romantic… Thanks to his efforts in the Greek War of Independence, today Greeks revere him as a national hero or maybe even more than that ?
In 1954 Nikos Kazantzakis wrote a novel called Christ Recrucified in which he tells the modernised Greek version of Jesus Christ through a small village in Western Anatolia with its residents. In every seven years, the village stages a passion play, residents were chosen to fulfill the roles of important persons in Jesus Christ’s trial. For instance, widow of the village portrays Maria Magdalena, “the good shepherd” of the village becomes Jesus of Nazareth. As story continues, the thin red line between reality and non-reality disappears. The shepherd Manolios commences to act like Jesus of Nazareth himself. Every one of them, each character loses their identities, their own mentalities. They become estranged to themselves. And in the end they await a saviour who must be willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of their lives. Kazantzakis asks lots of questions in his novel. Why do we need a saviour, why do we wait Jesus Christ? What is fascinating about Jesus Christ’s story ? He answers these questions with his main character Manolios, with his virtues , determination and will. The author gives us the possibility and glimpses of hope of modern-day Jesus Christs. However, I believe Kazantzakis deeply criticizes Orthodox-Greek society’s mentality because of their laziness and cowardness to take an action against the any authority(Ottoman State back then) and thus passively waiting for a saviour.
In 1823, it had been 2 years since Greek War of Independence had started. And Greeks were seeking help in Europe. Lord Byron was one of the most famous romantics of the time was in Genoa living in boredom. He was a great candidate for the Greeks who were looking for help, he was rich, famous, charismatic, influential and bored. It was a perfect non zero-sum game.
Lord Byron with his brig Hercules arrived at Greece and teamed up with Alexandre Mavrokordatos in 1823. At first, he was discouraged when he observed crises among the Greeks but as the conflict kept going, Lord Byron became more passionate. He sold his houses to make contributions to the Greek side, even became a military man. On the eve of a siege, he fell ill and died shortly in Missolonghi , in 19 April 1824. So what was his legacy to Greeks?
He created a positive public opinion towards Greeks in Europe, contributed lots of money, Greeks gained reputation thanks to his efforts but more importantly he fulfilled the role of Jesus Christ the saviour for Greek society.
Theodoros Vryzakis was a Greek painter born in 1818 and passed in 1878 and he was famous of his re-creation of historical scenes of Greek history. The Reception of Lord Byron at Missolonghi was one of them.
As one can see, the arrival of Lord Byron results a great joy among soldiers on right and on the left the priest indicates God, as if saying, thank you for sending us Lord Byron. I think, Lord Byron’s hand gestures are also very similar to Jesus Christ’s hand gestures and also his stance. Maybe, it is an excerpt from a passion play, no I don’t think so.
Italian painter Ludovico Lipparini was one of the witnesses of the era, he lived between 1802–1856. He also made a depiction of Lord Byron in one of his paintings.
Does it look like, Jesus Christ give sermon to his followers ? I think the answer is a yes:
This painting was made by Carl Bloch, he was contemporary to Lipparini.
Last but not least, Joseph Denis Odevaere was a Flemish painter and made a painting depicting the last moments of Lord Byron.
As one can see there is a direct referance to Caravaggio’s Jesus. Lord Byron was depicted as a martyr, maybe a European, Greek Jesus.
I believe Lord Byron, like the main character Manolios of Kazantzakis’s story fulfilled the role of Jesus Christ for Greeks. In the desperate times they were awaiting a saviour; but this time this saviour was a bit unexpected and different, he was romantic, poet, modern, English Philhelenist and nationalist that came for the aid.