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Rare Icons Stolen from Greek Monastery Repatriated from Germany

The two rare icons date from the 18th century. Credit: Greek ministry of Culture

Greek authorities reclaimed earlier in the week two rare icons that were stolen from a monastery in northern Greece and illicitly exported to Germany.

Greek authorities took possession of the icons, dating back to the 18th century and which depict Christ Pantocrator and Mary Portaitissa, at the Greek Consulate General in Düsseldorf, Germany.

The two icons were stolen, along with other objects, in November 2007 from the Monastery of the Assumption of the Virgin in Makrino, near the city of Ioannina in Greece’s Epirus.

Greek officials had recorded the missing icons and added photographs on the Interpol’s database of stolen and missing artifacts.

Interpol’s database of stolen works of art combines descriptions and pictures of more than 52,000 items. It is the only database at the international level with certified police information on stolen and missing objects of art. Only fully identifiable objects are entered in the database.

Greek icons and other cultural objects stolen from Epirus

“The Ministry of Culture has set an absolute priority to detect and repatriate antiquities and other cultural items that have been illegally exported from the Greek territory,” the Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni said.

She revealed that during 2000-2010 the Monasteries of Epirus suffered of extensive theft of portable icons and other objects of worship.

“Thanks to the cooperation of the Ministry of Culture and Sports with all the competent authorities, inside and outside Greece, and the Region of Epirus, a significant number of these images have been located in galleries and auction houses abroad and has already been repatriated,” Mendoni said.

The icons were returned by a German auction house to the Greek consul in Düsseldorf, Maria Papakonstantinou, in the presence of the Director of the Ioannina Ephorate of Antiquities, Varvara Papadopoulou.

The two icons will be moved to Greece in the coming days, before they are eventually returned to take their place at the Epirus Monastery.

Greek antiquities with questionable origin

Auction houses often sell Greek antiquities that are illicitly obtained.

It recently emerged that famous auction house, Christie’s, is putting under the gavel several ancient Greek helmets. Although there is no indication that these helmets are illicitly obtained, Greek archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, a veteran of skirmishes involving auction houses that often sell illicit antiquities to the highest bidder, is critical of Christie’s upcoming auction for an ancient Greek helmet.

In the past, he states to Greek Reporter in an exclusive interview, the same auction house has sold items of questionable provenance in the past, despite its stated recommendations to collectors that they should “buy from a reputable place.”

Tsirogiannis, an Associate Professor at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies,
University of Aarhus, Denmark 
has been responsible for a number of repatriations of artworks after his research uncovered their true origins. He has often voiced skepticism of the entire antiquities market.

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