Friday, June 12, 2009

Stolen Cypriot icons in Russian collection in Switzerland

A friend sent me a link to an article in the Cypriot Financial Mirror. It reported that Swiss police confiscated stolen icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary.(1) The seventeenth-century icons were from the fourteenth-century Chapel of Agios Iakovos(2) in Trikomo/İskele.

According to the Cyprus Weekly, the icons have been 'missing since the Turkish invasion of 1974'. They were confiscated from Russian collector Alexander Khochinskiy's apartment in Zurich.(3) (Similar reports are available in Greek in Phileleftheros, and in Turkish in Kıbrıs.)

As is clear on the Russian audit/estimate/appraisal website, Alexander Yakovlevich Khochinskiy (Александр Яковлевич Хочинский) runs an antique gallery in Russia, Bohemia (Богема). (I couldn't see Khochinskiy's name on the Bohemia website itself.) And Bohemia has been running for 37 years - that is, since 1972; so, apparently it even operated under Soviet rule.

'[P]robably the largest private gallery in Moscow' (4), Bohemia explains that
The main sources for exhibitions are the purchases of art objects from private individuals, including those from the heirs of famous people and collectors. We pay more than others!... We guarantee full verification of the authenticity and the lowest prices. All items [antiques] purchased by us for you can be guaranteed permission to export from the Russian Federation.(5)
Were the icons family heirlooms? Were the icons the property of a Swiss gentleman (or a Russian one)?

Particularly given the antique gallery's apparent operation during Soviet rule, some might think that Khochinskiy had the backing of the Russian state. When he was asked whether he had purchased letters between Voltaire and Catherine the Second for the Russian state (in 2006), he made 'no comment [Без комментариев]'.
  1. The article relayed that the Office of Monuments and Art of the Church of Cyprus noted that 'the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime [was] using the chapel as a tourist office'. I don't know whether the Church was simply trying to complain about Turkish Cypriot reuse of Greek Cypriot religious buildings, or whether it was trying to imply the Turkish Cypriot administration's complicity, negligence or incompetence.
  2. Also known as: Αγιος Ιακοβος; Agios Iacovos; Ayios Iacovos; Ayios Iakovos; Saint James; St. James.
  3. I haven't been able to find much information about Alexander Khochinskiy online: apart from offers and requests on antique websites, about the only thing I've found was an article about Sloan's auction house's bankruptcy,in which Khochinskiy was a victim. Khochinskiy paid for items before Sloan's filed for bankruptcy, then the consignor withdrew the items after Sloan's filing, but Khochinskiy didn't get his money back.
  4. является, пожалуй, самой большой частной галереей города Москвы
  5. Основным источником пополнения экспозиции является покупка предметов искусства у частных лиц, в том числе у наследников знаменитых людей и коллекционеров. Мы платим больше других!... Гарантируем полнейшую проверку на подлинность и самые низкие цены. Все приобретенные нами для Вас предметы могут быть обеспечены разрешениями на вывоз из РФ.

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