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“The fresco of the colours” by Afro Basaldela

The story behind the masterpiece

Hotel of Roses: an enchanting hotel in a magnificent location in the northern part of the town of Rodos that has housed royals, tycoons, prominent politicians and acclaimed artists from across the globe. Known as “The Dream of the East”, one of its opulent halls features “The fresco of the colours”, an impressive painting with a captivating story created by Afro Basaldela, one of the most important impressionists of the 20th century, an artist whose paintings have been exhibited in major museums such as the Ermitage in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The hotel was erected in 1927 by the Italian architect Michele Petracco who wanted to create a building that would “exude sun and wave like the Aegean sea”. In 1936, in an era when fascism was adopting more modern standards, and rationalism was becoming the current trend of the status quo, the Governor of “the Italian Islands of the Aegean”, Cezare Maria de Vecchi, influenced by his ambitious vision of “Grande Italia”, implemented a strategy of purification from the previously applied colonial architectural trend of the “protector”. Thus, he decided to change the buildings across the island, of course the Hotel would be no exception, and he looked for an artist to breathe new air into it.

This artist was Afro Basaldela, a visionary 26-year-old painter from Udine, born to a family with a long tradition in painting, whose ambitious dreams were not limited to a palette of colours. De Vecchi assigned him the prestigious project to decorate the wall of one of the halls of the Grande Albergo delle Rose, an elegant hangout of the Italian aristocrats of that era, challenging him to unfold his talent to deliver the ultimate result.

Enchanted by the miracles of antiquity, by the legends and nature of Rodos, and by the medieval walls, the painter travelled across the island to become familiar with its history. He painted mostly at night, and as darkness fell he would begin to paint incessantly. He was one of the first artists to believe that colour and light are equally important in art as the subject of the painting itself.

Using light and colour, shape and shade, Afro managed to revive the lifeless wall with this festive spirit, creating a fresco that is truly a celebration of light and life, a masterpiece that reveals how he was influenced by the overwhelming, omnipresent colours of Rodos.

The hotel closed down at the end of the 1960s. Derelict and deserted, it was chosen in 1987 by the Greek government as the ideal place to house the Press Centre of the European Community Summit of 1988, and the authorities of Rodos started working against time to refurbish it. It is then that workers discovered a dilapidated but impressive fresco, covered in dust and cob webs, and sought expert help to restore it. 11 years after the death of its creator, the fresco was returning to life…

Summer of 1998: A team of Italian government officials arrives in Rodos and seeks out Afro’s paintings. They visit the Hotel, now housing the Casino, and, to their astonishment, they see before them in the La Rosa Hall the immense fresco in perfectly preserved condition. They are fascinated by the finesse of the unknown work of the impressionist, a work that has since attracted, and continues to attract, the admiration of thousands of visitors.

Great impressionists of this century such as Afro have been innovative, experimenting with radical methods and materials. The art and the life of this Italian pittore, just like the history of Rodos, has been coloured in bright as well as dark colours. The colours of the blue sky, of the redolent roses, of the medieval knights, of the ancient myths. These were the colours that prevailed in Rodos, and these are the colours in Afro’s painting. Just as the one that meant most of all to him – the colour of feelings.

(The above text is a translated excerpt from an article by Mr. Teris Chatziioannou, Deputy Mayor of Cultural Affairs of Rodos)