Postcard from Pontikonisi

This island is taken to be one of the inspirations for Arnold Böcklin’s painting(s), Toteninsel. Lying just off the coast of the Ionian island of Corfu, south of Corfu Town, little Pontikonisi has a singular presence, although the mind’s eye requires plenty more supplementary information to arrive at something like the Swiss artist’s cult images (there were five in total, painted between 1880 and 1886, although one was destroyed in the Second World War).

Arnold Böcklin: Toteninsel III

As I discovered yesterday, Pontikonisi (“Mouse Island”) is not as quiet as the name suggests – the Island of the Dead is more like the Island of the Deaf, lying directly under the flight path of the nearby airport. Viewing the isle from a café playing taurine-flavoured Europop as a Ryanair jet flies over is a challenge to anyone’s Symbolist reveries.

For more on this deathless motif, John Coulthart has some typically insightful background on the genesis of Toteninsel and the numerous images it has inspired (including his own).

We return to Corfu in the days to come…



  1. john

    Guess Rachmaninov has no entry here!

  2. The trees have really grown since he made that painting. They obscure the painted view at least, which is mystical and lovely. I hope you can get out to that island and snap some photos for further comparison.

    • These shots were taken on the way to the (very) nearby airport, and I didn’t get out to the island itself. Apparently there’s a Byzantine chapel and little else (besides trees).

  3. Pingback: Places: Sissi and Fanny’s Corfu | Strange Flowers

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