Εmilios Ioannis Velimezis (1901 – 1946)
Οn 5 February 1938 Εmilios Ioannis Velimezis (1901-1946) submitted the written declaration of possession of the first forty icons of the Post-Byzantine period, which he had recently acquired. He was one of the first Greek collectors to respect the still recent Law 5351/1932 ‘On amendments and additions to law ΒΧΜΣΤ΄ On Antiquities’.
Emilios Velimezis, second son of Chief Justice of the Appeals Court Ioannis Velimezis (1859-1934) and Eugenia Velimezis (1883-1971) née Iordanidis, entered the Law School of the University of Athens at the age of sixteen and received his first Shorthand Certificate at the age of seventeen.
Between 1916 and 1925 he was employed by commercial companies in Athens, mainly as head of the departments of accounting and business correspondence. In early 1926 he travelled to Alexandria in Egypt, where he taught shorthand in the Averoff Commercial College until 1930. At the same time he patented his invention for reproducing adverts on cigarette boxes. He also worked for the Banque d’Athènes, as secretary to K. Laskaris.
Laskaris, who held Velimezis in high esteem, introduced him to Antonis Benakis (1873-1954), who at that time was directing from Alexandria the family firm in Egypt, the Middle East and London. A mutual respect developed between the two men. Antonis Benakis saw Emilios as the loyal technocrat and shared with him all the worries and the joys of their creative collaboration over the ensuing years, first in Alexandria and then in Athens, until Emilios’s death. Together they arranged the Benakis family’s Athenian mansion as a museum, in order to house the family’s precious collections.
Within this milieu another aspect of Emilios Velimezis’s personality developed, always under the influence of the Christian upbringing that his mother had given her four children.
Ιn 1935 he began forming his own collection of Post-Byzantine icons, dating from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century and from various regions of Greece. His penchant for collecting was encouraged from the outset by his siblings, the poet Konstantinos Velimezis (1898-1960), better known by his nom de plume Kostis Velmyras, the economist Theodoros Velimezis (1905-1979), and Sophia Velimezis (1920-1986), who later married the civil engineer Photios Chr. Margaritis.
Velimezis purchased icons for his personal collection, as well as others that he donated to the Benaki Museum and to churches. It is noteworthy that, as far as his finances permitted, he also bought works from the ‘Exchange of Populations Fund’ (such as the icon of St Alexios, N. Chatzidakis cat. no. 7) and various ecclesiastical objects (hexapteryga, crosses).
Imbued with the ideals of social benefaction, Emilios Velimezis made important donations in general and especially to the churches of St Dionysios the Areopagite and St Emilianos on Skouze hill, as well as to charitable institutions.
He commissioned the Constantinopolitan photographer Emil Séraf (1905-1990) to photograph his icon acquisitions, the painter Demetrios Pelekassis (1881-1973) to carry out conservation works, and the woodcarvers Priamos Nikolaidis (1882-1942) and Nikos Nikolaidis (1904- 1986) to make the frames. In 1943 Velimezis asked the Byzantinist Manolis Chatzidakis (1909-1998) – then Director of the Benaki Museum – to prepare the scholarly study of the Collection.