In the home of the Velimezis family

With the sudden death of Emilios Velimezis in 1946, his project remained unfinished: several of the icons in his collection – by then there must have been about ninety in all – had not been photographed by Emil Séraf, others had not been framed by the woodcarvers ‘Priamos’ and study of the collection had not been completed. A seventy-page typewritten text is the first and only part of the study prepared by Manolis Chatzidakis that had been handed over to Velimezis in 1945.

The Velimezis family went into deep mourning and the lights in the residence at 16 Dimokritou Street remained switched off. For many years.

Nonetheless, as a gesture of respect for the memory of their beloved Emilios, his grief-stricken mother and the families of his brothers and sister decided to make a gift to the Benaki Museum. They consulted with Antonis Benakis, and he and Manolis Chatzidakis chose those icons they wanted for the Museum, in addition to the ones that Emilios Velimezis had already donated while alive.

In the archives of the Velimezis Family is the file in which Eugenia Velimezis, the Collector’s mother, kept documents concerning the donation of icons
from the family collection to the Benaki Museum, in accordance with his wishes. ‘Donated to the Benaki Museum according to the wishes of our Emiliakos,
the enclosed Icons – and others – of which I do not have photographs. On my behalf and on behalf of my (son) Kostis, my (son) Dodo and my (daughter) Sophika, with the hope that this donation will remain as long as Antonios Benakis’s Museum exists, for which my golden Emilios tired so much.’

The office of Emilios Velimezis in his residence at 16 Dimokritou Street was arranged by his sister Sophia, as he too would have wished, and remained closed.

In 1986 Sophia departed this life, to meet there on high those of her family who had preceded her. She left behind as bequest to her sons, Christos and Emilios, care of the icons, in accordance with the ‘family spirit’.

In difficult moments properties and possessions of the family have been sold, but never the icons in Emilios’s collection. The command of the mother Sophia was explicit: ‘Take care that our Icons be donated to a museum or foundation in which their hosting and reception will allow everybody, ordinary visitors and scholars, to admire them with respect, at the same time making before them also their spiritual transcendence… .’

Note: Based on texts published in the Catalogues of the Exhibitions: a) Der Glanz des Himmels.Griechische Ikonen der Sammlung Velimezis at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 2006 and at the Pergamon-Museum, Berlin, 2007. b) Synaxis. Greek Art 1450-2000. Icons on Wood and Paper, The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 2010