The Ceramic Art of Rhodes

Agios Panteleimon, Rhodes ©copyright The Bent Archive
A ceramic plaque on the church of Agios Panteleimon, Rhodes. Presumably the work of Egon Huber or supervised by him.
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

The eagle-eyed visitor to the islands of the Dodecanese will undoubtedly have gazed upon some of the characteristic historic leftovers of the Italian occupation of the islands – the ceramic tiled murals.

The murals are particularly prolific on the island of Rhodes, where the author of this article, Gerald Brisch, spends much of his time.

Gerald has researched the subject extensively and we are grateful to be able to publish his article, which exposes hitherto little-known facts about the ceramics industry of Rhodes in the first half of the 20th century, and its leading figure, Egon Huber.

Egon Huber (1905-1960): Austrian designer, ceramicist, and philhellene.

Some ceramics brought home from the Eastern Mediterranean by the travellers Theodore and Mabel Bent in 1885 (private collection).
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

The writer Lawrence Durrell, who was a resident of the Dodecanese island of Rhodes for two years between 1945 and 1947, describes the area in his Reflections on a Marine Venus (London, 1953) – the still unmatched English book on the island. His paean makes several references to Rhodian ceramics and potters – a tradition reaching back millennia and continuing vibrantly in Durrell’s time, notably in the studios and workshops of the Italian I.C.A.R.O. company (the Italians, of course, having ousted the Turks, after a stand at Psinthos, in 1912).

In Hebrew and Arabic, 1933. An I.C.A.R.O. ceramic plaque on a commercial building, Rhodes. Presumably Huber’s work or supervised by him.
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

One of the great potters in Durrell’s day was the enigmatic I.C.A.R.O director, Egon Huber; Marine Venus is glazed with undisguised admiration for him. His story is little known, and, while awaiting  the Solomonesque ruling of some Wikipedia judge, we can shed a little light on him: he well merits it.

Our subject

Egon Huber at his wheel on Rhodes (undated).

Egon Huber (1905-1960), was an Austrian designer, ceramicist, sculptor, installation artist, and philhellene. He is best known for his association with the Industria Ceramiche Artistiche Rodio Orientali (I.C.A.R.O.) company, on the island of Rhodes, in the 1930s and 1940s.


Early life

Huber’s designs for a set of ceramic figurines dressed in Dodecanesian costumes (Benaki Museum, Athens)

Huber was born in Bregenz, Austria, in 1905, spending his early years in Salzburg. As a boy he was multi-talented, interested in all the arts, photography, and music (he played the guitar and violin). He expressed a desire early on to become a painter and sculptor and secured a place after the First World War at the University of Vienna, where he added ceramic arts to his studies. After university Huber lectured at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. note 1 

The Eastern Mediterranean

By his late twenties, seeking a more creative and artistically fulfilling life, he embarked on a solo journey in a dinghy from Vienna (or Venice according to Lawrence Durrell, who comes to know Huber well in the 1940s), via the Danube, the Black Sea, and the Turkish littoral, to Egypt. This odyssey was cut short in 1931, however, when Huber met with a violent storm off the island of Symi that blew him across the strait to the island of Rhodes, in the Dodecanese, at that time in the hands of the Italians. note 1  note 2  He immediately formed an attachment to the island and it became his home for the next twenty-five years – an equanimitable personality enabling him to cope with Greeks, Italians, Germans, and British alike during his long residence.

‘Industria Ceramiche Artistiche Rodio Orientali’ (I.C.A.R.O.)

At the bottom of the Street of Knights in Rhodes’ Old Town is the former ICARO showroom where Huber worked. On the wall is a scene of ceramic tiles, possibly made by Huber himself. The text is fantasy, but lovely: “La bella Martana de mastro de Lindo che danza ne piatti et susta et rispetto/ La bella Martana piliera de pinto Regina de putti sultana neu chetto/ Tra fiori tra fiere boccali et bicchieri Martana Martana Regina et Sultana”.
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

In early 1928, an Italian pottery company ‘Industria Ceramiche Artistiche Rodio Orientali’ (I.C.A.R.O.) had been founded on Rhodes, as part of the administration’s plan to industrialise the Dodecanese islands, to produce and market a range of pottery for export generally and to sell to the growing number of European tourists. note 3  The business model was a sound one, based on regenerating the early designs, many of Iznik/Syrian/Levantine origin, that had been made so popular by the ateliers of Lindos and Archangelos, on Rhodes’ southern coast, since medieval times. Hearing of Huber’s background in ceramics, a meeting took place with I.C.A.R.O. director Alfred Biliotti, who offered the Austrian a position as ceramic designer. note 1  The creative team included two Italians, Luigi de Lerma and Dario Poppi, note 4  and, briefly, the German potter Günther Stüdemann. note 5  Huber’s imagination, creative, distinctive designs, line and use of colour made him a key figure in I.C.A.R.O.’s initial phase (1928 – c. 1942) and he was appointed its first artistic director. note 1 

Friendship with Lawrence Durrell

The ancient city of Kamiros, Rhodes. A plate from Durrell’s ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’ (1953 edn, facing p.112).

For a portrait of the artist, there are many references to Huber in Durrell’s ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’ (1953). Durrell was stationed on Rhodes as Information Officer for two years when the Dodecanese were under British Administration (1945-1947). The English writer describes Huber as “a born solitary, tall, fair-haired… one of the aristocrats of the spirit — the poor artist who wishes for nothing but a chance to create.” note 2  The melancholy tone is appropriate, the war has effectively brought an abrupt end to the heady days of I.C.A.R.O.’s first, and best, period. Huber now spends his time beach-combing, note 2  and fishing. note 6  There was time, too, to make gifts for Durrell’s tiny home (a stone’s throw from the Casino, it still stands) – two white vases: “I remember so vividly the thump of the clay on the wheel, and the gradual emergence of their fine stems under the broad thumbs of Egon Huber”. note 7  There exists a classic black-and-white photograph of Huber at his wheel. note 8  note 9  The title of Durrell’s book on Rhodes even has an association with Huber, who was apparently present when the eponymous ‘Marine Venus’ was buried, in late 1942, to keep it out of the hands of the approaching Germans. note 10 

Metamorphosis and IKAROS

“Huber lives now in a little Martello tower much ruined by damp and neglect…  No word of complaint ever passes his lips, however, for he is one of the aristocrats of the spirit — the poor artist who wishes for nothing but a chance to create.” (L. Durrell, ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’, 1953, p.43)
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

The German occupation of the Dodecanese, and the duration of the Second World War, ushered in a second, much less productive phase for the ceramics firm, with Huber being obliged to focus less on I.C.A.R.O. and more on designing propaganda material. note 11  By this time, the artist was living in one of the medieval windmills that cluster around the windy northern point of Rhodes town. Durrell calls it “a little Martello tower much ruined by damp and neglect. How he avoided having to join the German Army is a miracle… He works in desultory fashion at the ruined workshop outside the town where in the past this world-famous pottery brought him tourists in their thousands and where shortage of clay has reduced him to poverty.” note 2 

A frieze on a property in the Old Town of Rhodes associated with the early years of I.C.A.R.O. An astonishing relic. There is every reason to believe that Egon Huber was involved in its design.
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive
ICARO were commissioned to produce a series of wall plaques, probably designed by Huber, for the port authorities on various islands of the Dodecanese. This one is from Karpathos – disfigured due to anti-colonial sentiment. Leros has a complete one still (photo. Alan King).

When the Italian colonists ceded Rhodes, and the Dodecanese, to Greece officially in 1947, the assets of I.C.A.R.O. were acquired by a Rhodian entrepreneur, who neatly rebadged the new Greek company as IKAROS, and it continued to produce decorative and popular ceramics until 1988. note 11  The metamorphosed pottery enterprise lasted exactly 60 years, and the output from the firm’s first phase is now widely collected worldwide, based much on the creative energy and imagination of Egon Huber. note 12 

Marriage and later life

An IKAROS wall plaque for gynaecologist Dr A.A. Karagiannis, Rhodes.
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

Huber, meanwhile, was tempted away from his old firm in 1947 to head up a rival company on Rhodes, in Rodini, on the main road to Lindos, and an offshoot of the large Athenian ceramics manufacturer – Kerameikos S.A. note   While arranging this in Athens, Huber, now in his forties, met a chemistry student, Elpida Bianchini, who was working as a colour specialist in the Kerameikos factory at Neo Phaliro. note 14  Elpida came to Rhodes as Huber’s wife and the couple had a daughter. Huber was to run “Kerameikos – To Rodini” from 1947 until the factory closed some eight years later. note 14 

The I.C.A.R.O. ceramic frieze for the offices of Ροδιακή Λέσχη, Mandraki, Rhodes.
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

Huber now found himself out of work and with no option but to leave Rhodes, much changed since he had found himself washed ashore there in 1931. He and his family moved to Athens, where he was taken on as a painter in the main Kerameikos factory, near which he lived. note 14 

One of Huber’s masterpieces, the large ceramic representation of an extract from ‘De Bello Rhodio’ by Jacobo Fontano (Book 2, 1527), telling the story of one Anastasia of Rhodes, who, her husband having perished, chose to join the defenders of the city and fight the Turkish invaders to the death in the great siege of 1522. The tragedy is compounded by her decision to slay her own children rather than that they should be taken as slaves. Huber’s work can be seen set into the left wall just as you enter the precincts of the Palace of the Grand Masters, in the Medieval City of Rhodes, a fitting place for this memorial to courage against great odds (see Ioannidis 2017, p 101).
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

These changes, and the fact that he had lost his own creative bearings, as well as having to provide for his family, eventually led to something of a crisis that saw Huber resigning and temporarily moving back to Vienna in 1956, to stay with his sister, while he searched for some artistic meaning in his life; he was 51. There he began to find inspiration in modernist sculpture and installation art, collaborating with an old friend, the sculptor Rudolf Hoflehner (1916-1995). note 15  With a new sense of direction, Huber returned to Athens, and a break seemed to come in 1960 when he and Hoflehner were commissioned to represent Austria at the Venice Biennale that Autumn. Huber busied himself preparing a series of large pieces in stone and iron, but he was not to complete them, he died that summer in Athens, aged just 55. note 14 

Huber’s work and legacy

Thought to be by Huber himself, the ubiquitous ceramic tile representation of the famous Virgin of Filerimos.
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

Rare examples of Huber’s early work are to be found today in the Benaki Museum, Athens and in private collections. He specialised in scenes composed of ceramic tiles, his influence being seen in his icon of the Virgin of Filerimos, decorative plaques for the port authorities of the region, and the amusing tile illustration of the doggerel ‘La bella Martana, De Mastro De Lindo’, preserved today in the small courtyard behind I.C.A.R.O.’s former showroom at the bottom of the Street of Knights in Rhodes’ Old Town. note 16  Numerous other decorative pieces are still to be seen.

Huber’s work featured in the exhibition “ICARO – ΙΚΑΡΟΣ The Factory of Rhodes 1928-1988” in 2017 in Athens note 17  and 2018 on Rhodes. note 18  note 19 

Huber’s 1935 design for map/poster of Rhodes for the Italian State Tourist Department.

In 1935 Huber also designed a highly decorative pictorial colour map/poster (69 x 49 cm) of Rhodes for the Italian State Tourist Department (ENIT), promoting his island and its legends, history and traditions. note 11  The composition is dominated, as might be expected, by Huber’s interpretation of the Colossus.

We would be delighted to hear from you if you have any further information on Egon Huber you would care to share.


Note 1: Ioannidis 2017, p.99.
Return from Note 1

Note 2:  Durrell 1953, p.43.
Return from Note 2

Note 6: Durrell 1953, p.183.
Return from Note 6

Note 7: Durrell 1953, p.180.
Return from Note 7

Note 9: “A Precious Heritage”INCREDIBLE GREECE. December 21, 2021.
Return from Note 9

Note 10: Durrell 1953, p.37.
Return from Note 10

Note 11: Ioannidis 2017, p.100.
Return from Note 11

Note 12: Ioannidis 2020, p.155.
Return from Note 12

Note 14: Ioannidis 2017, p.101.
Return from Note 14

Note 16: Ioannidis 2020, p.154.
Return from Note 16


  • Ioannidis, Yiannos (2017). ICARO – IKAROS The Pottery Factory of Rhodes, 1928-1988: 99-101 (in Greek). The Benaki Museum, Athens.
  • Ioannidis, Yiannos (2019). I.C.A.R.O. – IKAROS: the pottery factory of Rhodes (1928-1988), in M. Panagiotaki, I. Tomazos and F. Papadimitrakopoulos (eds): Cutting-edge Technologies in Ancient Greece: Materials Science applied to Cutting-edge technologies in ancient Greece: materials science applied to trace ancient technologies in the Aegean world: proceedings of two conferences held in Rhodes, 12–14 January 2018 and 11–13 January 2019: 153–160. Oxbow Books, Oxford.
  • Diakosabbas, Giōrgos (2019). I.C.A.R.O. (1927-1947) – Ikaros (1948-1987): 60 chronia kallitechnikēs angeioplastikēs rodioanatolikēs technēs (in Greek). Giōrgos Al. Diakosabbas, Rhodes.
  • Durrell, Lawrence (1953). Reflections On A Marine Venus, a companion to the landscape of Rhodes. Faber and Faber, London.
In the style of Egon Huber, if not by him, an early coloured tile on a house gate in Rhodes town.
Image ©copyright The Bent Archive

[All websites accessed 22/11/2022]

Copyright Information

The text of this article is the copyright of Gerald Brisch and the Bent Archive. Images described “Image ©copyright The Bent Archive” should not be used without the explicit written consent of The Bent Archive All other images may be subject to copyright restrictions.