A pair of 18th-century iconostasis doors looted from the Church of Agios Anastasios in Cyprus nearly 50 years ago has been restituted to the country’s government.
The repatriation ends a legal dispute dating back more than two decades. In the 1990s, Tasoula Hajidtofi, the former honorary consul of Cyprus known for her work in helping to repatriate artifacts looted from her home country, found the doors were located at the Kanazawa College of Art in Osaka, Japan. According to her 2017 memoir The Icon Hunter, the college acquired the works for 14 million yen ($140,000) from a Dutch art dealer in the Hague.
Dating to 1778, the ornate gold-painted arched doors feature an Annunciation scene on their upper half. The lower half depicts four saints: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, known as the Three Hierarchs, alongside the Cypriot saint Agios Spyridon.
In its announcement, the Cyprus Department of Antiquities describes the return of the doors as “one of the most renowned and at the same time complex cases of repatriation.” The looting of the church under Turkish military occupation, the department said, “reveals once again the catastrophic consequences of the Turkish invasion on the cultural heritage of Cyprus.”
The church of Agios Anastasios was looted in the years following the invasion of Cyprus by Turkish forces in 1974. The intervention was a response to a military coup led by Greek Cypriot forces. The church is one of many in the region from which religious art was taken and illegally trafficked.
According to a record from a convention around Cyprus cultural property in 2011, a Japanese attorney representing the Kanazawa College of Art claimed that the school purchased the works in good faith, rendering them “legally owned.”
The doors will now be conserved by Cyprus’s Department of Antiquities. After that, they will be given to the office of the Archbishop until their return to the church of Agios Anastasios.
This is not the only repatriation case concerning an object looted from Cyprus during the 1970s. In 1990, a U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago ordered the return of four Byzantine mosaics to the Greek Orthodox Church and the Republic of Cyprus that had been illegally trafficked and purchased by an Indiana art dealer.