“Within these four walls I have often conversed with beauty” admitted at some point the collector Eleni Stathatou, who in 1969 donated to the Gennadius Library a period room that is known as the 'Macedonian Room.' It now graces the new exhibition area in the Makriyannis Wing.
Eleni Stathatou was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1887, a daughter of the wealthy family of K. Konstantinidis, merchant, land owner and distinguished member of the Hellenic community of Egypt since the 1830s. In 1911 the young daughter of Konstantinidis married Antonios Stathatos, a successful businessman with connections to the Greek Royal Court, and they had two daughters. Eleni passed away in Athens in 1982, having received many distinctions on yours is one of the “Great Benefactors of the Greek Nation.”
Among her most important contributions was the donation of her collections to the Greek state. The material she collected all her life was jewelry from the Mycenaean until the post Byzantine period, a series of early byzantine oil lamps, vases and terra-cotta carvings, embroideries, Byzantine and post-byzantine icons, woodwork, Byzantine manuscripts and books. These items could be seen in the family home in Kolonaki, on 22 Herodotou street.
The small saloni that Eleni Stathatou donated to the Gennadius library in 1969 was the first room that she assembled herself during the 1920s. Upon learning that a church in Arta, known for its excellent woodcarvings, was about to be torn down, she acquired the carvings and arranged them in her drawing room in her mansion in Athens. The center of the room was the fireplace that showcased brightly colored blue ceramic tiles that she bought in Paris. Two large post-byzantine icons of the Virgin Mary and of Saint Andrew flanked the fireplace. Every inch of the room was full with other icons and ceramics from Asia Minor and the island of Rhodes. Four metallic lamps and two large wooden candelabra lit the room. The collector was very proud of this room. She exclaims: “When I found in Paris these blue plaques that they have put around the fireplace, I felt it was the best day of my life. Look at the color!”
This entire room was given by her to the Gennadius Library and was faithfully reconstructed as it had stood in her house. Helen Stathatou also donated four illuminated Byzantine manuscripts and eight religious icons from the Ionian islands. With one exception the artists are all Cretan in origin. There are three icons by the well-known icon painter Theodoros Poulakis (Chania, 1622—Corfu, 1692); a 17th century icon by the priest Antonios Skordilis; an icon depicting the Archangel Michael by Emmanuel Lambardos of Rethymnon, dated 1598 (the oldest in the collection); an icon of the Birth of the Virgin by the artist Victor, dated 1674; an impressive icon of St. Andrew, dated 1600, by Emmanuel Tzanes (Rethymno, 1610- Venice, 1690); finally, the most recent of the icons displaying a 1718 miracle of St. Eleutherius was painted by Konstantinos Kontarinis, a Cretan whose few recorded works were executed in Corfu.
The second room that Eleni Stathatou assembled at her house was the room known as Kozanitiko (from Kozani) which the collector donated to the Benaki Museum in 1964. Her collection of jewelry and antiquities (gifted to the National Archaeological Museum in 1957) was in the third smaller room that looked as a treasury.
Collecting art was a passion that filled Eleni Stathatou's life; she says: “My love for works of art of the past is not accidental. Objects speak to me. Well, now, look, think of how many people have prayed in front of this Virgin Mary. This icon was in Corfu, left behind in a derelict mention. It has some Cimabue influences. But its value is not that. It is the faith and the piety of all those who prayed in front of it that make it beautiful.... The more you know objects, the more you discover in them hidden details. Look at this St George by Klontzas. How sad he is for killing the beast.”
The information is drawn from the Administrative Archives of the Gennadius Library and the article of Alexandra Bounia, “Public Displays of Private Collections. Presenting the Collection of Eleni Stathatos to the Museum Visitor,” in eds. S.H. Dudley et al., Narrating Objects, Collecting Stories (London: Routledge, 2012).