The collections of ecclesiastical and secular art cover the historical period from the 15th to the 19th century and provide evidence of the high level of culture in the Greek world during the Frankish and Ottoman occupations.
The collection of Post-Byzantine Ecclesiastical art
The Benaki Museum's collection of post-Byzantine ecclesiastical art consists of a selection of sacred and service vessels, liturgical vestments, jewellery and accessories, and church furnishings in carved wood. It covers the chronological period from the 16th century, when the Orthodox Church began recovering from the Ottoman conquest, to the early 20th century.
The origin and workmanship of the objects in the collection represent the broad geographical spectrum within which the Greek cultural presence made itself known: Pontos, Cappadocia, Transylvania, Wallachia, Venice and Russia. An important part of the collection is made up of heirlooms brought to Greece by refugees from Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace and kept at the Benaki Museum on a permanent basis.
Objects for ecclesiastical use are made out of precious and semi-precious materials such as silver, gold, gems, silk, and gold thread, and often bear dedicatory inscriptions naming the donor or patron who commissioned them, the artisan who created them, and the date and place where they were produced. The donors of such items usually belonged to the higher strata of society, which was represented during the period of Ottoman rule by the ecclesiastical authorities and the local notables. Intended to enhance the authority of the Church, post-Byzantine ecclesiastical art preserved traditional Byzantine forms and iconography, while at the same time reflecting artistic influences derived from the great urban centres of the East and West.
The collections of Neo-Hellenic Secular art
The Benaki Museum's collections of neo-Hellenic secular art, which cover the chronological period from the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 to the end of the 19th century, are thought to be unique in terms of their outstanding quality, number and variety.
They are witness to both the common elements and the local variations evident in neo-Hellenic artistic expression, in areas as diverse as the Frankish-occupied territories of Crete, Cyprus and the Dodecanese and Ionian Islands, and the Ottoman-occupied areas of Pontus, Asia Minor, Thrace, Constantinople, Macedonia, Epirus, Attica and the Peloponnese.
Woodcarving and sculpture are represented by unique reconstructions of wood-panelled rooms from houses in Kozani, Siatista and Hydra, as well as by numerous chests, island furnishings and a 19th -century loom from Crete.
Rare ceramic pieces demonstrate the unbroken tradition of pottery-making stemming from the Byzantine period.
Outstanding examples of the weaver's work from Crete, Cyprus and Melos are included in the collection of woven textiles. In addition, almost every part of the Greek world is represented by embroideries dating from the 17th and 18th century. Among these, there are remarkable examples of needlework from Epirus and the Ionian Islands, bed clothes from Asia Minor, embroideries from Skyros and Cyprus, and a magnificent bridal bed-canopy from Rhodes.
The collection of Greek costumes includes complete outfits from many different regions, as well as isolated fragments, such as tunics from Karpathos and a pleated and embroidered skirt from Crete.
The Museum also possesses an exceptional collection of jewellery from northern and central Greece, Attica, the Dodecanese, the Cyclades, the Ionian Islands and Asia Minor. Of especial interest are the well-known three-masted caravels and the golden necklaces from Siphnos and Patmos, as well as the gold ear-drops from Kos.
Finally, the art of stone-carving is represented by examples of work from the Greek islands, such as the marble decorative elements from a mansion in Ios, a fragment of the architrave of a marble sanctuary screen from the Cyclades and carved skylights from the island of Tenos.
The Benaki Museum uses Vapona for the protection of museum spaces
The collection of Prehistoric, Ancient Greek and Roman antiquities which is formed through the contributions of several Greek and foreign donors, as well as from the reserves of other museums, covers a vast chronological period stretching from the dawn of prehistory to the end of the Roman era.
The Byzantine collection links the ancient Greek world to that of modern Greece. The collection is exceptionally rich, although it is not representative of all the different artistic tendencies and currents which flourished during the thousand-year Byzantine Empire, and is divided into two groups.
The Benaki Museum collection of Islamic art, which includes examples of all its local variations from as far as India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily and Spain, ranks among the most important in the world.
Whilst the nucleus of this collection is made up of works from Antonis Benakis' personal collection, the bulk of it is derived from the donation made by Damianos Kyriazis in 1953, as well as from subsequent gifts and bequests made by many other friends of the Museum. It includes a total of almost 6000 paintings and drawings by mainly European artists of the 17th to 19th centuries, as well as works by Greek artists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery was gifted to the Benaki Museum by the artist and functioned as an annexe to the museum from 1991-2000, whereupon it closed temporarily for maintenance and building refurbishment. Work commenced in 2005 under architect Pavlos Kalligas and in May 2012 the Gallery re-opened its doors to the public.
The Maria Argyriadi donation is the core of the Department of Childhood, Toys and Games, which was founded in 1991.