One of the last missing pieces of Byzantine art stolen from Cyprus in the 1970s was handed back this week by a renowned Dutch art investigator, the AFP news agency has reported.
It said Arthur Brand handed back the sixth century depiction of Saint Mark during a private ceremony at the Cypriot embassy in The Hague.
Describing Brand as the “Indiana Jones of the art world” because of his exploits to recover stolen works, AFP said that the handover was the result of a nearly two-year chase across Europe.
“This is a very special piece that’s more than 1,600 years old. It’s one of the last and most beautiful examples of art from the early Byzantine era,” Brand told AFP.
After getting a tip from a prominent London art dealer, Brand travelled to Monaco in August.
Through a series of intermediaries — including several in the underground world — Brand finally traced the missing mosaic to an apartment.
“It was in the possession of a British family, who bought the mosaic in good faith more than four decades ago,” Brand told AFP.
“They were horrified when they found out that it was in fact a priceless art treasure, looted from the Kanakaria Church after the Turkish invasion,” Brand said.
The family agreed to return it in return for a small fee to cover restoration and storage costs, he added.
A week ago, Brand — who was working with the Church of Cyprus — returned to Monaco to collect the treasure.
In 2015, Brand won world fame after finding two massive bronze statues made by Nazi sculptor Joseph Thorak that are referred to as “Hitler’s Horses”.
He made headlines again a year later for helping to recover five stolen masterpieces from a criminal group in the Ukraine.
Religious artifacts including mosaics were hewn from the church walls in northern Cyprus following the 1974 Turkish invasion.
They included a set of mosaics taken from the Panayia Kanakaria church in Lythragomi.
Many pieces ended up in the underground world of art smuggling and went missing for many years, while the Cyprus government and church campaigned ceaselessly to recover them.
“The mosaics of Kanakaria are of immense importance in Christian art and world culture,” art historian Maria Paphiti told AFP.
The ensemble is among a handful of artworks that escaped the menace of Byzantine iconoclasm in the eighth and ninth century, she added.
Twelve mosaic fragments have been returned so far, one depicting the Apostle Andrew — which Paphiti discovered among a collection of artworks in 2014.
In 1989, four fragments depicting the upper part of Christ, two apostles and an archangel were handed back after a high-profile case in Indianapolis.
Some pieces are still missing, including the lower part of Christ’s body.
(Photo from AFP)