Institute for Mediterranean Studies

Western Art in Crete

Western Art in Crete

The aim of the program is to study the art of Crete in the Venetian period (13th–17th c.).

The aim of the program is to study the art of Crete in the Venetian period (13th–17th c.). The starting point was to make a comparative study of Cretan and Western European art, especially Venetian art, in the context of the new environment created as a result of the island becoming part of the Venetian maritime republic. The program Western Art in Crete was completed in 2012 with the retirement of Professor Olga Gratziou who was in charge of the program. During the period from 1996 to 2012, hitherto unknown material remains of the Venetian period were located and closely studied by the members of the research team who had the chance through the program to specialize in the sculpture and architecture of the Venetian period. At the same time collaborations were established with the Ephorates of Antiquities of Crete and the Historical Museum of Crete. Founded on solid foundations, the program, although typically inactive after 2012, continues to bear fruit.


During the first period, testimonies of literary and archival sources were studied as well as works of art: illustrated manuscripts, icons, works of sculpture and architecture. Specifically:

Ι. A database with bibliography on Venetian Crete was established. The data base was incorporated into the project Digital Crete.

ΙΙ. Photographic facsimiles of manuscripts produced in Crete during the period in question, which had illustrations or contained works relating to Crete, were collected in analogue or digital form. 

ΙΙΙ. A database was established which catalogued evidence from the archives and published sources of the presence of Western artists in Crete and correspondingly the existence of Western artworks in churches and homes in Crete as well as imported household objects.

ΙV. Collaborative working relationships were established with the Ephorates of Antiquities in Crete and the systematic recording and studying of stone carving and sculpture from the period of Venetian rule in Crete was initiated. Sculpture provided an appropriate subject for research in terms of meeting the program’s objectives, offering a large body of material that had not previously been systematically examined. Moreover, these works had generally been produced on the island. For the most part they were associated with architecture, which was inspired by Venetian models or reproduced imported designs. Thus the sculpture provided a way of looking more closely at the architecture too. This work produced the following outcomes: 

  • Two databases were set up: i) for sculpture from the museums and other collections and ii) for sculpture in its original location or in secondary use, built into later buildings. This material is freely available and is used by scholars and visitors at the Institute of Mediterranean Studies.  Part of it is accessible on the internet.
  • In 2002, in collaboration with the 13th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities in Crete, a symposium was held at the IMS on the topic of “Sculpture in the Latin East, 13th–17th centuries”
  • The collective publication titled Sculpture and Stone Carving in the Levant, ed. Olga Gratziou, Herakleion: Crete University Press 2007 was published.

V. Aspects of architecture were studied: e.g. construction techniques, special purpose buildings, the meaning for stylistic choices. 

In more general terms, the shift of the research towards the material remains from the Venetian period preserved on the island has provided the opportunity to discuss many issues related to the artistic and cultural implications of Venetian rule in Crete.  This research field was well adapted to the training of a new generation of scholars.  The Program welcomed undergraduate students for their practical training and collaborated with postgraduate students of the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Crete.  In the context of the Program’s research objectives and with the support of its infrastructure: 

Three master dissertations were produced in the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Crete 

    • Marianna Katifori, Χαρτογραφική Μελέτη του Μεραμπέλλου στα χρόνια της Βενετοκρατίας. Τα μοναστήρια στη χρήση και οργάνωση του χώρου. Εφαρμογή στα Γεωγραφικά Συστήματα Πληροφοριών, [A Cartographic Study of Merabello in the Venetian Period, Recapturing the Spatial Dynamics of the Monasteries using GIS], Rethymno 2005
    • Nikos Tsivikis, Ο ναός της Αγίας Άννας στην Ελεύθερνα Μυλοποτάμου, [The church of Saint Anne at Eleutherna, Mylopotamos], Rethymno 2008. 
    • Evangelos Charitopoulos, Η ενδοχώρα νότια του Ρεθύμνου κατά τον Ύστερο Μεσαίωνα: μελέτη και αξιολόγηση των αρχαιολογικών δεδομένων με εφαρμογή γεωγραφικών συστημάτων πληροφοριών (GIS) [The hinterland south of Rethymno in the Late Medieval Period. Study and Evaluation of Archaeological Data using GIS] Rethymno 2009.

Academic Supervisor
Olga Gratziou (Emeritus Professor of the University of Crete and Honorary Member of the Institute of Mediterranean Studies/ FORTH)

Research team

The following have participated in the research team as postgraduate students, doctoral candidates and young researchers:

Petroula Varthalitou
Maria Vakondiou
Sofia Katopi
Matteo Magnani
Olga Magoula
Konstantinos Roussos
Fani Skyvalida
Nikos Tsivikis
Giannis Fantakis


The two-volume collective work Sculpture in Venetian Crete (1211-1669), Volume I: Studies, Volume: Lapidarium, Edited by: Maria Vakondiou, Olga Gratziou, Heraklion: Crete University Press 2021, was published.

The publication is a collaboration of the Institute of Mediterranean Studies and the Society of Cretan Historical Studies. In the first volume, after an introduction about the aims and chronological scope of the research, there are studies which present the condition of the Venetian monuments of Crete and their adventures up to the present time, examine a large number of sculptural works preserved in their original position and discuss the development of the sculptor profession and the artistic and historical significance of his art. Volume II is occupied by the systematic catalogue of sculptures belonging to museums and archaeological collections of the island. Apart from the editors, collaborators from the four Ephorates of Antiquities of Crete and from the IMS contributed to the writing.


Two doctoral dissertations were prepared at the Department of History and Archeology of the University of Crete, by the collaborators of the program:

  • Sofia Katopi, The Venetian Loggia of Candia: the history of the monument from its construction until today, Rethymno 2016.  Dr. Katopi’s book The Venetian Loggia of Candia: Architecture and Ideology, will be published by the Crete University Press in 2023.
  • Maria Vakondiou, Stonemasons and sculptors in Venetian Crete, Rethymno 2017


The research for the monuments of the Venetian period was extended to include their reception and management during the 19th and 20th centuries. IMS hosted Sofia Katopi’s research project "The role of the Great Powers in the fates of the Venetian monuments in Crete during the first quarter of the 20th century", funded by the Research Center for Humanities (KEAE) for the year 2021. As part of this project, a conference was held at the IMS with the title: "European Heritage and Colonial Sensitivities in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Great Powers and the Fate of the 'Western' Monuments of Crete, Cyprus and Rhodes in the early 20th Century".

Project Team

Olga Gratziou

IMS Honorary Fellow, Professor Emerita
Department of History and Archaeology, University of Crete
Curriculum vitae

Maria Vakondiou

Postdoctoral researcher
Curriculum vitae

Sofia Katopi

Postdoctoral researcher
Curriculum vitae

Nikos Tsivikis

Postdoctoral researcher
Curriculum vitae

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