Edward Lear, The Monastery of Xenophontos (1856)


Edward Lear, The Monastery of Xenophontos, Mount Athos, Greece.
Inscribed ‘Xenophonta’ (in Greek) and inscribed and dated ’16 Sept. 1856. 14.’ ‘Monastery.’ (lower right), further inscribed with colour notes and numbered ’83’ (lower right).
Pencil, pen and brown ink and watercolour, heightened with touches of white. 14 ½ x 21 in. (36.8 x 53.3 cm.)

During Lear’s long tour of Mount Athos in September 1856 he travelled throughout the peninsular and succeeded in visiting all twenty principal monasteries and many of their dependencies. He produced a series of fifty drawings of the monasteries and landscapes, of which the present drawing and lot 116 are part. He apparently intended to publish a volume of his tour of Mount Athos but this was never fulfilled, although he did adapt several of his drawings for his series of illustrations to Tennyson’s poems.

That he did not pursue this project may have been in part due to his ambivalent feelings about the monastic life on Mount Athos, which he expressed in a letter to Chichester Fortescue, ‘However wondrous and picturesque the exterior & interior of the monasteries, & however abundantly & exquisitely glorious & stupendous the scenery of the mountain, I would not go again to Ayios Oros for any money, so gloomy, so shockingly unnatural, so lying, so unatonably odious seems to me the atmosphere of such monkery’ (Lady Strachey (ed.), Letters of Edward Lear, London, 1907, p. 41). Yet despite his feelings about monastic life and the isolation of the inhabitants of the ‘Holy Mountain’, Lear was received warmly wherever he went and found the landscape and buildings beautiful.

The monastery of Xenophontos was founded in the 10th or 11th Centuries and lies on the Western shore of the region. It is ranked 16th in the hierarchy of the monasteries on Mount Athos.


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