Ioannis Vitsaris was a sculptor who, along with Dimitrios Filippotis, transcended the limits of neoclassicism which then dominated modern Greek sculpture and introduced realism. In the First Cemetery of Athens are to be found certain of his most representative works, such as the “Mourning Spirit” on the family tomb of Nikolaos Koumelis.
The “Mourning Spirit”, the angel of death comes, as an iconographic type, from Hellenistic and Roman tomb sculpture and was a motif particularly dear to the hearts of makers of neoclassicist funerary monuments. It was brought to Greece by the German sculptor Christian Siegel. In the form introduced we see a naked angel, standing in relief, holding a torch upside down, symbol of life that has been extinguished. This original motif was subsequently varied and enriched with other funeral symbols, such as the seeds of the poppy – indication of eternal sleep – and the butterfly – symbol of the departing soul. Fully carved, it represents him seated in a thoughtful pose or fallen face forward and mourning, holding an urn of ashes.
Ioannis Vitsaris based himself on the latter type, but stripped of any supplementary element or symbol. It is thus adapted to the realistic style, which aspires to express emotional situations by means of the work itself without the use of standardized symbols. His “Mourning Spirit”, having grieving “Morpheus” by Jean-Antoine Houdon as its iconographic model, is itself transformed into a symbol of grief and mourning as, fallen on the tomb, with his head on his right arm and his body tucked into a ball, the figure mourns for the dead person.