Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cypriot Icons: Presumed "Stolen" on Entry to America but "For Sale" Legally in Cyprus?

Back in 1999, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs imposed "emergency" import restrictions on Cypriot Icons. See
These were later converted to "regular" restrictions, and extended along with the new, controversial restrictions on ancient coins back in 2007. See

It's a bit odd then that "La Parole Divine" is auctioning off icons that appear to be subject to restrictions at an auction in Cyprus. See

According to the firm's website,

Around 130 lots dating from the 15th - 20th century and representative of the religious cultures of Russia, Greece, Cyprus, the Balkans and the Orthodox Levant will be offered. Worth in excess of one million Euros, the sale provides the opportunity for established and new collectors alike to acquire artworks from this highly specialised field.

While I am happy this seems to be an effort to create a "licit market" within Cyprus, one wonders how this firm was able to accomplish what otherwise seems officially frowned upon in Cyprus (or so we have been told)-- the sale of items of cultural heritage.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that the Island's all powerful "Bank of Cyprus" has sponsored the sale. Under the circumstances, one also wonders whether this sale is getting "special treatment" due to this relationship. In short, is this another case of one rule for the "connected few" and another for the "little guy?"

For more on the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation and the controversial decision to extend import restrictions to coins, see


Unknown said...

Dear Sir, Mdme,

May I ask your attention for the following topic: an upcoming Greek and Russian icon auction in Cyprus

See press release

the London based Cypriot owner Maria Paphiti of the auction house had to step down as ‘expert’ at Christie’s after she was exposed working with convicted felon Seraphim Dritsoulas* laundering looted and dodgy icons from Cyprus and Greece. Unfortunately that time I did not know His Excellency Porfyrios yet Subsequently also Maria Paphiti was kicked out at MacDougall Auctions as she crooked the clients together with the same dodgy dealers.
*Seraphim Dritsoulas: caught for looted icons in the past CNA: [03] More stolen icons from occupied Cyprus discovered

Important!!! Maria Paphiti was and is still laundering and hyping icons to her own benefit

One of her activities: She buys via contacts at auctions all over Europe to sell them triple if not quadruple or more to ‘innocent’ wealthy buyers… she is a hoax!

For instance

See her press release and her website:

“Equally special are a number of Greek and Cretan icons. For instance, the Nursing Mother of God flanked by Sts. John the Baptist and Catherine (estimate: €60,000-80,000)”

The Nursing Mother of God Flanked by Sts. John the Baptist And Catherine

See also ‘Highlights’ on her website

In truth: This icon was sold only LAST Year in Zurich at Schuler Auktionen for Swiss Francs 25000 not even twenty thousand Euro’s

Icon Lot. 701, March 2009

Gottesmutter Galactrophousa und 2 Heilige. Greco-venezianisch, E. 17./18.Jh. Tempera über Kreidegrund auf rechteckiger Holztafel. Im Zentrum Darstellung der stillenden Gottesmutter. Sie wird von Johannes dem Vorläufer (links) und der Hl. Katharina (rechts) flankiert. Naturalistischer Hintergrund mit Bäumen. Insektengänge. Kl. Schad- und Fehlstellen. 65,5 x 87. – Holzrahmen ergänzt.

Die Ikone mit starkem westlichem Einfluss wurde von einem der so genannten „Madonneri“ ausgeführt, die bis zum ausgehenden 18. Jahrhundert in Venedig tätig waren.

Does she think Cypriots and wealthy Russians are idiots and ignorami? Ready to be plucked by her and her accomplice’s? This ‘arranged’ auction is bad for the image of icons and the Church of Cyprus… and what will the sponsors say if all this comes out?

I am really upset… she is kicked out of two auction houses and now on the brink of taking her own people for a ride… if you need more info on the auction scam, I will be happy to provide this

Michel van Rijn

+ 31 651589974

Cultural Property Observer said...

I obviously cannot vouch for Mr. van Rijn's statements, and must leave it for the reader to judge them for themselves.

Peter Tompa

Cultural Property Observer said...

The Cyprus Mail subsequently covered this auction and some of the comments to one of the articles touched on Mr. Van Rijn's statements. See and

The second article notes that the auction house decided to donate the only icon in the auction attributed to Cyprus to the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. The icon in question depicted Saint Mamas. Saint Mamas is the patron saint of Turkish-occupied Morphou. I assume that at least suggests the possibility that the icon originated from this town. The article does not state whether there is any suspicion it may have been looted when Turkish troops invaded the Island, but one wonders whether that possibility factored into the decision to donate the icon to the Church.

Christiana O'Connell-Schizas said...

Are you not the same Michel van Rijn 'the self-confessed dealer in stolen art and antiquities… a Dutchman specializing in Orthodox icons, [who] had arrived on the island in June with the aim of concluding lucrative deals with Turkish Cypriot icon snatchers and tomb raiders'? (according to Ms. Michael Jansen's words...)

IF what she is doing is wrong, and IF you are the same Michel van Rijn, then with all do respect sir, how do you explain your actions...?

I do not wish to put you on the spot or offend you, I am simply very interested on this topic