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PETROS MORAÏTES (Greece, Tinos Island, Messi 1832-ca.1888 / act : Athens)

Petros Moraïtes Born in 1832 at Messi of Tinos Island, Petros Moraïtes came to Athens at a young age with an aim to study painting. Though Filippos Margaritis, the first Greek professional photographer, was one of his teachers at the School of Fine Arts, it is not known whether he was taught photography by him. In 1859 he appears to be a partner of the photographer Athanassios Kalfas. The relevant ad in Avge newspaper mentions that "Mr. Athanassios Kalfas began his photographic work [...] and collaborates with painter Mr. Petros Moraïtes", a piece of information that does not clarify the exact capacity of the latter in this respect. In any case, the collaboration proved to be fruitless, as the next year Moraïtes declared to the Athenian public that "in the same studio [...] wherein he had collaborated with Mr. Ath. Kalfas as partner, he is available to photograph every day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. regardless of the weather" - continuing to describe himself in the same ad as "photographer and painter".

In the 1960s the career of Moraïtes developed steadily and satisfactorily, as evidenced not only by his success, but also the decorous advertisements which are required to adorn photographs; in 1861 behind every photograph he signed modestly with fountain-pen in Greek "Moraïtes photographer". Since 1862 he used an oval seal inscribed in Greek "P. MORAÏTES, PHOTOGRAPHER IN ATHENS". In 1865 he inaugurated small labels in color, which proudly announced in French "P. MORAÏTES, Photographe de S. M. le Roi, ATHENES", while during the same year appeared for the first time at the rear of his carte-de-visite the royal crest, which was hence ever present. In but a few years Moraïtes as photographer to the King was promoted to "Photographer of the Royal Family", while various medals and decorative patterns were gradually added next to the royal crest. The ornate cards in various hues, which he used at the end of the 1870s were printed exclusively for him in Vienna.

The success of Moraïtes was as much financial as it was social. His connection to the royal court - owed largely to his marriage with the daughter of the German Baroness Perl - helped him become the photographer of the high society in Athens, which enabled him around 1868 to built a luxurious residence at the junction of Eolou and Evripidou Street. Being well aware of the value of public relations, he was wise enough to exploit his relationship to the court. As known, "when the King was to be photographed, his aiutant let the photographer know in advance, and he in turn gave orders to cover the stairs with a red carpet that was reserved for such occasions. When the royal carriage arrived outside his studio, the entire neighborhood gathered to see the people of importance". Even the end of this Balzacian character, who climbed the social ladder of the small society around him thanks to his art, was sardonically connected to the royal family; the death caused by the bite of a monkey Moraïtes shared exclusively with the unfortunate King Alexander (1893-1920). The exact date of Moraïtes' death has not been possible to establish, despite systematic research at the Athens Register. It is believed he died around 1888 out of septicemia that was caused from the bite of a monkey, which he kept as a pet at his country house in Patissia.

The album 19th Century Greece through the Lens of Petros Moraïtes, which was supervised by the known photography historian Alkis Xanthakis, is the first comprehensive monograph dedicated entirely on a Greek photographer of the nineteenth century.

[Megakles Rogakos 08/2006]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
XANTHAKIS, ALKIS X. 19th Century Greece through the Lens of Petros Moraïtes 2001 Potamos, Athens
DOUKAS, IOANNIS F. / ANGELOPOULOU, ARGYRO / TSAKNIAS, GEORGE Cit of Marbles 2006 Doukas School, Athens, p.76 [Greek]

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