At an early age he fled with his family to Odessa because of persecution by the Turks, and then to St. Petersburg, a large artistic center during that period, where he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1857 he travelled to Rome and Venice to familiarize himself with the great painters of the Renaissance, finally settling in Florence where he remained and worked until 1867. There he met and married Zoe Kambani, who died a year after the wedding, however, from tuberculosis. Having also fallen victim to the same disease, he was forced to quit Florence and go to Egypt which had a warmer climate. During the journey, on which he passed through Athens, he visited the Acropolis. In any case, his name is mentioned for the first time in 1878 in the Greek magazine Εστία (Hestia), according to which his mother-in-law, Euphemia Kambani, donated seven of his works to the Gallery at the Art School. Nevertheless, the Greek public was very late in recognizing his work, not until the exhibition at the Society of Music Devotees in 1895. Works of his were also shown at the exhibition of the Society of Art Devotees in 1900 and in 1915 the National Gallery exhibited “The Painter’s Family” at the Zappeion Hall. This work was also presented at the exhibition of the League of Greek Artists in 1917 as well as all the exhibitions organized by the National Gallery at the Zappeion Hall. In 1908 Kimon Michaelidis published an exhaustive article on the artist in the Greek magazine Παναθήναια (Panathinaia) and it appears that he was recognized in Florence as well since one of his self-portraits is at the Uffizi Gallery in the city and a head of an old lady is in the Museo Civico in Padua. Kounelakis’ painting includes portraits, religious subjects and mythological scenes.
Having studied the art of the Renaissance, as well as the works of the French classicists from the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, he combined Renaissance classical structure, measure and harmony with faultless draughtsmanship and the melancholic rendering of figure common to French art, while in the depiction of mythological scenes a definitive role was undoubtedly played by his acquaintance with the work of Dominique Ingres.