The Artist Nikos Stavroulakis

Dedicated to the memory of Nikos Stavroulakis, this exhibition is a first step to portray his general image as an artist.

It includes seven sections which present some of his work as a Folklorist and Ethnologist, as a Religious Illustrator, a Calligrapher, a Graphic Designer, an Engraver, and a Painter, while the last section under the title, Restless Creator, includes his miscellaneous works. Almost all of these works come from the JMG collection and the collection of the Etz Hayyim Synagogue, in Chania, Crete.

Nikos Stavroulakis was not only an artist, but also a researcher. Consequently, his artistic nature cannot be distinguished from his scientific research. He might be characterized as a historian who introduced artistic methods to reconstruct the Jewish life of the past and to incorporate in his works feelings and findings from his research. In his eyes, the Jewish life of the past was portrayed as a single and lasting historical reality, partly known and partly unknown, which he tried for a long time to reconstruct and present. His research and artistic reconstruction feed each other.

His rich education enabled him to acquire a broad cognitive and artistic view, within the context of Diaspora, and to spot diversifications over time and between places which enrich the total presence of the Jewish world. His ideological belief was that to be Jewish is a matter of principles and of the will to preserve the evidence of the history of the Diaspora.



Nikos Stavroulakis (1932-2017)[1] was the son of Petros Stavroulakis and Anna Pinhas. He was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. In 1954 he graduated from the Notre Dame University, Indiana, with a Bachelor of Arts in the European Literature and Philosophy. In 1956 he earned a Master’s of Art degree in Islamic and Near East Studies, from Michigan University. He began a D. Phil in Islamic Art and Architecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London under David Rice.

In 1958 he settled in Athens, where he taught classes and worked as a painter and engraver. His works were exhibited in Athens, London, Paris, New York and Jerusalem.

In 1965 he became officially a member of the Jewish Community of Athens and in 1969 he moved to Israel, assuming his Hebrew name, Daniel Hannan. Living in Jerusalem he served as director of the excavation of Santa Maria Allemana under the Jerusalem Foundation from 1969 to 1971. From 1972 to 1974 he lectured at the University of Tel Aviv in Byzantine Art and Architecture. In 1975 he completed his D. Phil thesis on “The icons of Mar Saba Monastery in the Wadi Kelt” (Lavra of St Savvas, in Judea Desert) under Prof. Bezalel Narkiss. After this, he returned to Athens, where he lectured in Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman history and art.

A turning point in his life came in 1977, when in a room attached to the Synagogue of Athens, he started to build the preconditions for the establishment of the Jewish Museum of Greece. His principle was that “it should not be a Holocaust Museum, but a Museum reconstructing Jewish life, the life of simple, everyday people who found themselves trapped by terrible events, a Museum about how they had lived. The Museum should be a link with the past, which had been completely destroyed” (from a conference to Victor Eliezer). Since then, a great part of his work was connected with the development of the Jewish Museum of Greece, where he served as the director, until 1993.  Then he settled in Chania and until his death he devoted himself to the restoration and revival of the Etz Hayyim Synagogue, which stood in ruins since World War II. Under his direction, construction began in 1996, and the building was rededicated in 1999. In 2000, Nikos Stavroulakis travelled repeatedly to Thessaloniki to offer his knowledge and advice for the establishment of the museum of the local Jewish Community.

In 2010, the Etz Hayyim Synagogue was officially incorporated as a non-profit organization, while Nikos Stavroulakis continued as its spiritual director, until his death, on 19 May 2017.




  • Sephardi and Romaniote Jewish Costumes in Greece and Turkey, Athens, The Jewish Museum of Greece, 1986.
  • Cookbook of the Jews of Greece, Athens, Lycabettus Press, 1986.
  • The Jews of Greece, Athens, Talos Press, 1990.Jewish Sites and Synagogues of Greece, Athens, Talos Press, 1992.
  • Salonika, Jews and Dervishes, Athens, Talos Press, 1993.
  • Salonika, A Family Cookbook, Athens, Talos Press, 1997.

NS derived inspiration from the history of the Jewry in the context of the Eastern tradition. He used to look for authentic cultural documentation and if the tradition gave incomplete replies, his art came to combine existing and missing elements and cover the gap. An example is how diligently the distinctive Jewish costumes of the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, based on rules of religious discriminations, have been reconstructed in painting, in his Sephardi and Romaniote Jewish Costumes. In other cases, like the Cookbook of the Jews of Greece, Nikos Stavroulakis reconstructed in sketches the human factor involved in cooking and the relevant Jewish customs.

NS devoted time and efforts to illustrate religious issues in an artistic and original way. In this section we present some works from his collection of Misle’ (Proverbs), which was published in a folio with 12 woodcuts prints, titled Proverbs. Two other individual woodcuts concerning Abraham and King David are also presented.

The Book of Proverbs (Misle’, מִשְלֵי) is a book in the third section (Ketuvim) of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and also a book of the Christian Old Testament. The Book’s verses concern the values of human life, of which wisdom is the most important. The fear of God is regarded as the beginning of the human wisdom. Nikos Stavroulakis chose for his folio twelve topics in correspondence with the relevant verses, which are included in the contents of the folio. All verses come from the Jewish Publication Society’s 1917 edition of the Hebrew Bible in English.

NS’s artistic contribution might be better appreciated if his efforts to restore Etz-Hayyim Synagogue in Chania are taken in consideration. His crucial means of achieving success was his excellence in black-and-white drawings, as well as writing encouraging notes. “Jottings” and other publications, which have been the means of communication of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Etz Hayyim with its members, friends and supporters all over the world, were abundantly illustrated by NS’s drawings and calligraphy.

Calligraphy has been his congenial technique used to express his deep appreciation of Eastern civilization, as well as to indicate his chosen religious identity. Being a specific kind of Hebrew visual cultural art, Hebrew calligraphy is one of the oldest forms of artistic writing. It has retained its basic rules for hundreds of years. A typical technique of this art, used also by NS, is to fill the whole width of the line, in order to produce a layout of the page between two vertical imaginary lines, by extending the square-shaped letters tav, bet, reish and final mem into rectangular shapes. However, Nikos Stavroulakis introduced innovations. He used letters not just to write sentences, but as constructive elements of design, in the manner that the result of his calligraphy is also a black-and-white drawing. He also used it to form sayings and prayers in cyclical or twisting shape, mainly to produce cards and illustrations. In this sense, his calligraphic work had autonomous existence and the Hebrew letters served not only as writing, but also as his design.

Another group of his works consists of drawings accompanied by calligraphic verses, which although not necessary for the perfection of the drawings itself, stand as an explanation and in the same time they complement the illustration’s aesthetic form.

The JMG collections include plates and jugs decorated by Nikos Stavroulakis with religious symbols and calligraphy. He also designed on paper, to create posters and cards for the cultural activities of the Etz Hayyim Synagogue, i.e. concerts, musical events, social gatherings and the Interfaith Calendar. The themes of NS’s graphic design come directly or indirectly from the religious tradition, although his expressive means include abstract mark-making, combined with non-traditional calligraphy, the main characteristic of which is the fluctuating scale of the depicted object.

This section includes woodcut prints made by NS. Although the limits between this and other groups are not always clearly discernable, the works that follow have been printed individually, not just drawn or published, as in other sections of the exhibition.

With the exception of one painting located at Alexander and Margaret Levis Collection, NS’s paintings include his works either for the Interfaith Calendar of Etz Hayyim Synagogue, or inspired by his rich experience of the restoration of the synagogue. Some other works, watercolours on paper, are located at the JMG.

This section includes sketches by NS, most of them unpublished or not created for any specific purpose other than to express the artist’s creativity. A few others could be considered related to the core of NS’s favorite activities, namely the creation of the Jewish Museum of Greece on Amalias Street and the restoration of the Etz Hayyim Synagogue.



RESEARCH – TEXTS Christina Meri Alexios Menexiadis

TEXT EDITING Alexios Menexiadis



Zanet Battinou

Evaggelos Hekimoglou

Evaggelos Hekimoglou

Hayia Cohen Eliza Solomon

Victoria Kosti

Elisa Solomon

Leonidas Papadopoulos

The Jewish Museum of Greece would like to thank for their contribution:

The Council of AMKE Etz Hayyim Synagoge in Chania and the General Director Anja Zuckmantel
The Restio Elderly Hospitality Center and the Director Solomon  Solomon Halegoua
Alexander and Margaret Levis