Nude on the Acropolis

Elli Souyoultzoglou-Seraidari or Nelly (1899-1998). The Acropolis with the dancer Mona Palva, 1927. Photo: TES.

In 1927, photos stirred up a storm of controversy on the part of historians and archaeologists in Athens. The Greek photographer Elli Souyoultzoglou-Seraidari or Nelly (1899-1998) photographed the nude dancer Mona Palva on the Acropolis. Although the Acropolis had been the subject of (civil) war, plunder, neglect and other blasphemy for many centuries, this was one bridge too far. The Acropolis has been a fortified site since 1250 B.C. From the sixth century onwards, the main temple was the Panthenon, dedicated to the Godess Athena, honoured by an enormous statue. A woman on the Acropolis was thus not unusual, but Athena was dressed and a godess after all. It was the first time the Acropolis, the Greek symbol of independence and a glorious past,was shown in company of a naked mortal woman, even a dancer. Nelly was born in Aidini, Asia Minor, and came to Greece in 1924, after a study in Germany.

Throughout her life she held a passion for photographs of (Greek) refugees as well as for classical monuments. Her photo of Mona Pavla, a Russian refugee, and the Acropolis combined both. Her photo’s also show the Acropolis in a rudimentary or authentic state, without major renovations. In the years 1925-1929, she made a series of photographs of ancient Athens and these pictures are monuments as well. Nelly was also a photographer at the Olympic Games in Berlin (1936) New York, the city she inhabited after the war. She is now regarded as the national photographer of Greece and her ‘sins’ of 1927 have been forgiven. (Source: Benaki Museum Athens).