The Icon Painter
Icon painting is a centuries-old tradition in Crete and the rest of Greece, and Greece Travel Secrets meets a modern-day icon painter in Elounda on Crete.
Yiorgia Petrakis: Photo by Donna Dailey
All Other Photos Courtesy of Ioannis and Yiorgia Petrakis
‘There are still plenty of icon painters in Crete,’ says Yiorgia Petrakis, ‘but not many of them are painting with the heart.’ Yiorgia is taking a break from her own work at the Icon Workshop she runs with her husband Ioannis in Eloúnda. At the back of the shop stands a canvas on its easel, specially adapted with wooden supports on which Yiorgia can rest her wrists while concentrating for long hours.
The Icon Shop and Studio
The Cretan School
Icon-painting is a great Cretan tradition, and the island’s skillful
artists became renowned during the 15th-17th centuries under the name of the
Cretan School. Icons were being painted for many centuries before this, of
course, but during that period Cretan artists were in great demand in Venice,
the artistic capital of the western world.
Ioannis Petrakis at work in his studio
Studying Icon Painting
It is a skill that is still highly respected on Crete, though not many people make them like Yiorgia in the traditional way. Born in Thessaloníki, Yiorgia met Ioannis when they were both studying Icon Painting at the Painting School at Athens University. They married and moved to his home town of Eloúnda, where they opened their workshop.
Yiorgia Petrakis at work
The Rules of Icon Painting
‘We studied for several years,’ Yiorgia says. ‘Icon painting is full of rules. You can’t explain them, you must feel them. It must come from the heart.’
The wooden frame for an icon painting must be made from a hard, dry wood like oak, chestnut or pine, not an oily wood like the olive tree. The paper is handmade from cotton. Egg and vinegar is used to make the egg tempura, and 23-carat gold leaf provides the background. Paints are also handmade in the traditional way, dyes coming from the earth, from flowers, from metals. Yiorgia and Ioannis buy their paints from the one factory in Greece which still makes them in this way.
Some Works by Ioannis and Yiorgia Petrakis
‘Sometimes to make just one colour can take years,’ Yiorgia explains. ‘They bury a metal in the ground until it decays to the point where they get exactly the colour that they want. And it can take one month to make one of the larger paintings, which is why real icon paintings can be expensive. But we have customers from all over the world. Most of the work that we do is to order, but we always have work in the shop for people to buy. It is not just the skill of the work, of course. It is the feeling for Mary, for Jesus, that affects the painting. Your love for them must come through.’
As Yiorgia returns to her canvas, it is quite clear that her own love shines through every icon. The spirit of the Cretan School lives on, in this little shop in the holiday resort of Eloúnda.
The Icon Shop and Studio in Elounda
Visit the Icon Painters
You'll find the Icons Art Studio on Elounda's Main Square No 8 (Mpotis Sfakianakis).
Where to Stay on Crete
Other Crete posts
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Lonely Planet Crete is an excellent and thorough guide of almost 300 pages to the largest of the Greek islands.
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Greece Travel Secrets recommends where to stay in Central Crete including hotels in Matala, Ayia Galini, and Zaros.
The Battle of Crete during World War 2 inspired several books and took place with an airborne invasion over Maleme on the north coast of the island.
Driving central Crete in three days gives you time to see the highlights including the Minoan palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the beaches and the Diktean Cave.
The Diktean or Diktaean Cave, also known as the Psychro Cave, near the village of Psychro in eastern Crete, is said to be the birthplace of Zeus.
The Greece Travel Secrets guide to Zaros in Central Crete, including what to do, where to stay, and where to eat.
Greece Travel Secrets visits Visual Arts Crete who offer accommodation and run art courses at their home and studio in the village of Kastellos near Rethymnon.
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Greece Travel Secrets recommends where to eat in Western Crete with tavernas and restaurants in Chania, Rethymnon, and Paleochora.
Greek literature has influenced the world, from the works of Homer, called the world's first novelist, through its great poets and dramatists to modern authors.
The Golden Age of Greek drama saw playwrights including Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes and Euripides all writing, and you can still see a play at Epidavros.
Margarites is known on Crete for its pottery, with ceramics shops and workshops lining the streets of this charming small town not far from Rethymnon.
The Samaria Gorge is one the longest gorges in Europe and doing the hike is one of the best and most popular things to do on Crete.
Greece Travel Secrets found these beautiful photos of Greece and the Greek islands by Athens-based photographer Milan Gonda.
Ancient Gortina is an archaeological site in southern Crete famous for the church of Ayios Titos and for the Law Code inscribed here, the first in Europe.
The largest of the Greek islands, Crete has four ENUESCO sites, which are Sitia, Psiloritis, Asterousia, and the Gorge of Samaria.
Hiking the Samaria Gorge on Crete, one of the best things to do on Crete, by Greece Travel Secrets.
The best things to do on Crete and top things to see include the Samaria Gorge, the Minoan Palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the towns of Chania and Rethymnon.
The Goules Taverna in Goulediana, south of Rethymnon, has been called one of the best tavernas on Crete and Greece Travel Secrets recently visited them.
Greece Travel Secrets discovers Sitia, the main town in eastern Crete, with its relaxing waterfront, inexpensive hotels, good food, and nearby ancient sites.
Keramos Studios in Zaros on Crete is an inexpensive two-star hotel/guesthouse with one of the best breakfasts on the island using food from the family’s farm.
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