Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Albanian Frescoes Sustain Irreversible Damage for Collectors' Market

Past Horizons ('Albanian frescoes sustain irreversible damage', Tuesday, January 22, 2013) is reporting that there has been more portableising going on - presumably to take advantage of the ability of the current collectors' market to absorb any number of freshly-ssurfaced artefacts orf any type, no-questions-asked:
Important medieval frescoes of St. Premte Chapel in the remote village of Valsh in central Albania, have suffered irreparable damage at the hands of thieves who tried to prize them from the walls. The frescoes mainly depict religious scenes, some of which were created by Onufri, a 16th century icon painter who spent a period of his life in Valsh. Widely considered to be Albania’s greatest icon painter, Onufri is renowned for his colours and style and introduced greater realism and individuality into facial expressions, breaking with the strict conventions of Byzantine art. His works were signed with the title “Protopapas” (Greek: Πρωτόπαππας), demonstrating a senior position in the church hierarchy. St. Premte Chapel. Image: Auron Tare St. Premte Chapel. Image: Auron Tare Irreversible damage Initial damage to the frescoes was sustained on 30 December 2012 when the Chapel was closed and unguarded. Local people made the discovery soon after and notified the authorities – but no action was taken – allowing the thieves to strike again on 4 January 2013. The thieves mainly concentrated on removing the heads of the saints, some of which they managed to hack from the walls, while other unsuccessful attempts left parts of the frescoes crumbling on the floor. Artan Shkreli and Auron Tare, two Albanian heritage experts, visited the Chapel soon after, in order to assess the damage. Appalled at what they saw, they then felt compelled to stage a protest in front of the Ministry of Culture and to notify the media in order to bring attention to the situation. The pair are now calling for action and accountability and Shkreli who heads the Forum for the Protection of Heritage, said that as far as he knows it is the worst crime of its type to have taken place in Albania in the past 20 years. [...]  Tare firmly believes that there needs to be far tougher punishments for those who damage or steal from cultural heritage sites. According to him prosecutions and punishments have been rare and therefore have no deterrent effect. 
So, a bit like in England then, where metal detectorists frequently take archaeological finds out of archaeological sites - damaging them and preventing the proper study of the evidence on such cultural heritage sites. Of course, the British archaeological community don't see it like that, their archaeological record is magic, you see. The more you take out of it, the more grow back in its place. The rest of the world however is sceptical of such a magic mushroom approach to the heritage and think that it needs more and better resources applied to providing better protection.

So, will the thieves find a collector willing to buy the pieces they took away no-questuions-asked? Or will they be apprehended the moment they try to put them on the market because a responsible collector spotted them and reported the seller? The theft took place 4th January, no reports so far, then...

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