In post-Napoleonic Europe, the Greek Revolution (1821-1830) represented an event of great importance not only politically but also symbolically. Indeed, with the end of Ottoman rule and the birth of the Hellenic nation-state, the principle of autonomy and self-determination of peoples, which had come into vogue during the Romantic era, could be blatantly affirmed in what was considered the cradle of classical civilisation.
Pro-Hellenic sentiment also spread rapidly in pre-unification Italy where the heroism and self-denial of the Greek ‘brothers’ became an example to be imitated in an attempt to overthrow the pre-existing ancien régime political systems (Risorgimento Greco 1986). A real topos in Romantic painting inspired by Greek independence movements was the death of the patriot Giorgio Botzaris. The sacrifice of the hero, who fell during the battle of Karpenisi (1823), was frequently depicted both in France (Kosmadaki 2021, pp. 82-85) and in Italy, for instance by Ludovico Lipparini and Filippo Marsigli.
The choice to evoke Botsaris before the fatal descent into war was, however, less common. The painter Giorgio Mignaty (de Gubernatis 1889, p. 301) – born in Cephalonia and therefore intimately linked to the revolutionary events of modern Greece – opted to portray the commander within the walls of the monastery of Calabrita in the act of receiving the consecrated arms from Archbishop Germanos, Metropolitan of Patras (Notizie diverse 1865). In line with the dictates of great 19th century history painting, Mignaty chose to layout the scene according to the aesthetics of theatrical melodrama. In fact, the lyrical tragedy in four acts Marco Botzaris (1860), written by the poet Giovanni Caccialupi and set to music by Pavlos Carrer (originally from Zakynthos) had some influence on the composition. As documented by an article in the English periodical ‘The Atenaeum’, the painting was visible in the painter’s Florentine studio as early as the autumn of 1863 (Modern Italian 1863); the canvas was later exhibited at the Promotrice di Belle Arti in Genoa (Società Promotrice 1865, p. 18).
From his early years, Mignaty had revealed himself to be a cosmopolitan figure gravitating around the Italian and English intellectuals present in Kefalonia. It was in fact thanks to the support of Frederic Adam, High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, that around 1843 the painter was able to train in Rome under Tommaso Minardi (Fersi 1895). After settling in Florence, he became, together with his wife Margherita Albana (1827-1887) – supporter of Italian Risorgimento ideals, connoisseur of Dantean poetry, passionate about occultism and correspondent of the ‘Daily-News’ – a point of reference for the Anglo-American colony settled along the banks of the Arno.