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Balkanalysis.com Briefing with Chryssa Maltezou, Director of the Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies, Venice, October 2011

Venice, Italy- On October 7, 2011, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso held a briefing with Dr Chryssa Maltezou, Director of the Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies, at the Institute’s premises in Venice.

Known in Italian as the Istituto Elenico, this research center, museum and library is very significant for its continuing scholarly work and vast historical collection of icons, scholarly and church texts and archival records, from the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods.

In the briefing, Dr Maltezou provided an overview of the Institute’s history, possessions, and past and present scholarly activity and productions. Each year, the Institute hosts a limited number of Greek scholars, and also works with visiting scholars from other countries. Along with the rich Venetian state archives and texts housed in local libraries like the Biblioteca Marciana, many other manuscripts, printed books and objects of art attesting to the formative influence of Hellenic culture in Venice before, during and after the Renaissance are housed at the Hellenic Institute.

In the briefing, Dr Maltezou discussed the origins of the Hellenic Institute, which emerged following a joint agreement between the Greek and Italian governments after World War II. The Italian School in Athens and the Italian Archaeological Mission in Crete were reopened, while a new institute was set aside for the Hellenic heritage in Venice; the city’s small remaining Greek population contributed rare possessions remarkably preserved through the generations, items including Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons, ecclesiastical garb, manuscripts, printed books and private records. This priceless collection of historic items today remains invaluable for scholars and attests to the rich Greek presence in Venetian history and intellectual life.

In the briefing, Dr Maltezou explained the Institute’s important fellowship programme for Greek scholars pursuing PhD research. Since 1962, over 70 fellowships have been granted, and many such students have gone on to become eminent scholars in Greece, while the Institute has published over 100 important studies in over 50 years of existence.

Dr Maltezou acknowledged that the global economic crisis could put pressure on the sustaining of such scholarly work, and highlighted the importance that philanthropic donations from organizations such as the Onassis Foundation and Niarchos Foundation have played for the Institute. She also discussed aspects of the Institute’s international cooperation and conferences, and its involvement with exciting research being done concerning aspects of history in previously Venetian-held areas of Greece, such as the Ionian islands, and the Peloponnese, areas for which the Venetian archives can shed considerable light.

Dr Maltezou also underscored that great potential remains for scholars wishing to explore the archives, and that much more work remains to be done- with even the massive manuscript donations of renowned 15th-century Greek Cardinal Bessarion to Venice’s Biblioteca Marciana remaining largely unexplored.

Following the briefing, Dr Maltezou presented Balkanalysis.com Director Deliso with the official book catalogue of all of the Institute’s publications since 1962, and CD-ROMs documenting both Greek heritage in Venice, and script and miniature painting in the Institute’s manuscript collection (dating from the 12th to 14th centuries). Intriguingly, one such illuminated manuscript, containing the 14th-century vernacular verse romance of Alexander the Great, depicts the ancient warrior as a Byzantine emperor. (At present, the bound manuscript is displayed in the institute’s adjoining museum).

Dr Chryssa Maltezou is a Greek scholar and, since 1998, Director of the Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies. During the span of over 40 years, Dr Maltezou has published numerous articles and books, particularly concerning the period of Venetian rule in Greece, the relations of Hellenism and the West, the experience of the Greeks under Frankish and Venetian rule, and of the latter in Greek lands.

In executing her research, Dr Maltezou has used largely unpublished and unknown archival material unearthed while exploring the archives and library collections of Venice and other Italian cities, the Orthodox patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem, several Greek monasteries, and Greek islands’ local records. In so doing, Dr Maltezou has also performed the necessary systematic classification, cataloguing, publication and evaluation of such archives, something of great benefit for future researchers.

Over her career, Dr Maltezou has held numerous research and teaching posts and authored over 100 studies, receiving several awards along the way. She served as Director of the Center for Byzantine Studies at the Greek Research Institute from 1980-1994, and for most of the same period served as Professor of Mediaeval History at the University of Crete, and is now with the University of Athens. She has also been a Fellow of the Dumbarton Oaks Centre for Byzantine Studies in Washington, DC, and lectured in numerous universities around the world.

The Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies (Istituto Ellenico) in Venice is the only Greek research center outside of Greece, and the heir to numerous historical items preserved over the centuries by Greek families, scholars and businessmen who lived in Venice before and after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453- the most significant community being the Brotherhood of St Nicholas of the Greeks in Venice (founded in 1498).

Although much in decline after World War II, the community continued to exist, and in 1953 became the most important benefactor for the new Institute when it decided to transfer over its tangible properties and collection of icons, manuscripts, books and its archives. Today, the Institute also hosts the See of the Greek Orthodox Church of Italy and Melite (founded in 1991), and has become one of the world’s foremost centers of research on the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine intellectual heritage and Greek culture in Venice, preserving records vital to the study of Greek-Venetian mutual influences and social and political relations over the centuries.

Located in Castello, not far from the magnificent Saint Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace, the institute occupies a serene position across the Ponte dei Greci (Bridge of the Greeks), beside a small canal. On its grounds, the Institute contains a library, museum and church, which can be visited by the public. The museum, which contains important icons of the Cretan School by masters like Michael Damaskinos, is open daily from 9am-5pm.

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