Historical Overview

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The history of the Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA) virtually coincides with the history of the Modern Greek State. The forerunner of ASFA was the “School for the Arts” which was founded by Royal Decree published in the Official Gazette on December 31, 1836 (January 12, 1837). The School was modelled after its western European counterparts, especially those of Bavaria and France.

Initially, the School operated only on Sundays and bank holidays, and it admitted students regardless of age and educational level, without any specific selection procedure. It was a one-year course and the instruction was gratis. Its curriculum included drawing (both freehand and geometric), mathematics, modelling, elementary architecture and, later on, calligraphy. The School’s first appointed Principal (“Governor”) was a Captain of the Corps of Engineers, Friedrich von Zentner.

The “Royal School of Arts & Crafts” (or “Polytechnic School”, as the School was also known) was temporarily housed in a residence on Pireos street. The set date for its inauguration was October 17, 1837. Because of the massive turn-out of candidates, the School was soon rejecting several entrance applications. The first appointed teachers of drawing were the Danish Hansen brothers. However, the first fine arts course was probably introduced in the curriculum in 1840 and was closely connected with the artistic aspirations of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, also known as the Duchess of Plaisance, who succeeded in engaging Pierre Bonirote, a painter from Lyon recommended by Ingres, to teach oil painting. In 1842, the employment of Philippos Margaritis, who was to teach elementary painting, coincided with the opening of a daily attendance School.

The outbreak of the constitutional revolution of September 3, 1843 also affected the School’s operation. On October 22, 1843, a Royal Decree was published which confirmed the existence of three departments within the School: the Sunday School for those professing “miscellaneous arts & crafts”, the Daily Attendance School for “industrial arts”, and the Higher School “for the everyday instruction of the beautiful arts”. The decree established that the School will offer instruction in art, from painting and statuary to engraving. In January 1844, the architect Lyssandros Kaftantzoglou takes over as new Principal of the School. That same year, a course in the History of the Visual Arts and Mythology was introduced into the curriculum, taught by Grigorios Papadopoulos, a classical scholar. Soon after, a new avant-garde course was introduced: a course on photography, taught by Philippos Margaritis.

In August 1863 a new Operation Charter is endorsed, whereby the Daily Attendance School is upgraded into a three year course of studies. In 1894, the Polytechnic School had to cope with the issue of women’s attendance. As a result, a “Department of Graphic and Plastic Arts for young ladies” was established; it was eventually abolished in 1901, when co-education was instituted.

The important step towards the independent formation of a School of Fine Arts was taken after the military coup of 1909. A bill that was passed in February 1910 administratively separated the Arts Department from the Industrial Arts Department, allowing the former to become self-governed. Georgios Iakovidis, Curator of the Gallery, was the first Principal of the autonomous School of Fine Arts, which nevertheless continued to operate within the framework of the Metsovion Polytechnic (as the School had been officially named in the meantime, in honour of the national benefactors from Metsovo).

In 1914, the Metsovion Polytechnic –now named National– was legislatively accredited as an Institution of Higher Education. A new law regulated the operation of the School of Fine Arts. As far as the organisational structure of the institution is concerned, a selection procedure for hiring teaching staff was established, adopting an open invitation system instead of appointing faculty members.

Iakovidis was succeeded as Principal by the sculptor Konstantinos Dimitriadis who was appointed by decree. The Law 4791, passed on July 3, 1930, accredited the School, granting it academic independence. Thus, the Athens School of Fine Arts, which began as an art department of the “School for the Arts”, severed the umbilical cord attaching it to the Polytechnic and evolved into an independent educational institution whose aim was “to provide artists with practice in the visual arts and theoretical education”. By the same law, the ASFA Annexes and its Studios are also established, the latter (already provided for in a 1923 law and operating unofficially since the mid-1920s) being to this day the educational nucleus of the Department of Fine Arts. In order to enrol at a Studio, candidates must pass the special admission examinations. In 1939, the chair of History of Art is officially established; Pantelis Prevelakis succeeds Zacharias Papantoniou (who taught Aesthetics and History of Art) and holds that chair for 35 years.

World War II, the German Occupation and the Greek Civil War during the 1940s, forced the School to under-function. Dimitriadis, who died in 1943, was succeeded as Principal by Epameinondas Thomopoulos.

In 1947, Yiannis Moralis succeeds Konstantinos Parthenis. From 1950 to 1970, professors such as the painters Georgios Mavroïdis and Spyros Papaloukas, the sculptors Yiannis Pappas, Dimitris Kalamaras, Thanassis Apartis, the engraver Konstantinos Grammatopoulos and the architect Pavlos Mylonas enhance the School’s prestige, both by their teaching and their mere presence. In 1960, the so-called applied arts workshops, i.e. today’s Elective Studios, are established. Elli Voïla-Laskari, teaching at the time at the Mosaic Studio, becomes the School’s first woman faculty member. During the 1967-1974 dictatorship, ASFA students participated in the resistance against the military junta, while no ASFA professor collaborated with the Colonels’ regime.

Following the restoration of Democracy, new blood joins the School’s faculty, namely artists such as Panayiotis Tetsis, Dimosthenis Kokkinidis, Nikos Kessanlis, Dimitris Mytaras, Georgios Nikolaïdis, Ilias Dekoulakos, Thanassis Exarchopoulos, as well as the architect Savvas Kontaratos; thus all tendencies of modern art are represented, both in practice (i.e. in the Studios) and in theory, enriched by the incorporation of the course “Introduction to Philosophy and Aesthetics”, taught by Pavlos Christodoulidis.

Pantelis Prevelakis retired in 1974 and was succeeded by Marina Lambraki-Plaka, who became the School’s first woman to be elected at the rank of Professor. In 1992, the painter Rena Papaspyrou becomes the first woman Studio Director.

A turning point in the School’s evolution occurs during Panayiotis Tetsis’ term as Rector (since 1977, the School’s Principal becomes a Rector, according to Presidential Decree 741/1977), when the Greek State cedes to the ASFA the old textile factory of the Sikiaridis family at Pireos street. This building complex was substantially developed under the rectorship of Nikos Kessanlis; today, it houses the greater part of the School’s activities.

In 1998, the Postgraduate Programme “Masters Degree in Digital Art Forms” is established, followed in 2004 by the “Masters Degree in Visual Arts”. In 2011, the joint MA Programme (ASFA & Paris 8) in “Art, Virtual Reality and Multi-Purpose Systems of Artistic Expression” was established; it operated until 2021. There is also a PhD Programme in Visual Arts.

In 1991, the Presidential Decree 486/1991 provides for the establishment of the “Department of Theoretical Art Studies”, which admitted students for the first time in the academic year 2006-2007. In 2009 it was renamed the Department of Art Theory and History. The theoretical department also has a PhD Programme and an MA Programme in “Theory and History of Art” (established in 2014, admitting students as of 2016).

In 2013, by Presidential Decree 71/2013, the School of Fine Arts was established within the context of the Athens School of Fine Arts; it consists of two academic departments: the Department of Visual Arts and the Department of Art Theory and History.

Text written by Nikos Daskalothanassis, Professor of the Art Theory and History Department of ASFA.

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