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Cypriot Church Art Found Volume 51 Number 2, March/April 1998
by Mark Rose

[image] Sixth-century mosaic of an apostle from the Kanakariá church in northern Cyprus (Courtesy Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations) [LARGER IMAGE]

An eight-month sting operation in Germany has resulted in the recovery of Cypriot church art including some 30 frescoes from the fifteenth-century Antifonitis monastery, a mosaic depicting an apostle from the A.D. 520 church of Kanakariá, and dozens of icons. Police found the treasures in a Munich apartment rented under a false name by Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen. Estimated to be worth $40 million, the artworks were taken to the Bavarian National Museum. Dikmen was arrested after being videotaped selling stolen goods in a sting in which Dutch art dealer Michael van Rijn cooperated.

In 1988 Dikmen, Van Rijn, and their associate Robert Fitzgerald sold four Kanakariá mosaics to Indianapolis dealer Peg Goldberg for more than $1 million. The mosaics were ordered returned to the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus after a 1989 trial in federal court in Indianapolis; they are now displayed in the Byzantine Museum in Cyprus.

In 1984 Dikmen sold the Menil Foundation of Houston thirteenth-century frescoes from the St. Themonianos church near Lysi, Cyprus. Cypriot church authorities approved the purchase on the condition that the frescoes, now displayed in Houston, would eventually be returned to Cyprus.

The Antifonitis monastery and the Kanakariá and St. Themonianos churches are all in northern Cyprus, which was invaded by Turkey in 1974. Many churches there were later despoiled, and Dikmen appears to have had a major role in the sale of the artworks stripped from them. "We have managed to catch the mastermind of the whole smuggling operation," Athanassios Papageorgiou, a Byzantine art expert who works for the Cyprus Archbishopric, told Reuters.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America