By Jean Christou
With its full displays and bursting basement, it might be hard to imagine the Cyprus Museum getting excited about a tiny figurine that was donated this week by a private collector, but an official at the antiquities department said not only is it a unique piece, but the move is also part of a growing trend.
An official announcement during the week expressed the department’s “sincere appreciation” to Christakis Hadjiprodromou “for his kind donation of a prehistoric clay figurine”.
The figurine was part of Hadjiprodromou’s declared private collection that he kept in his house in Famagusta prior to the Turkish invasion in 1974. Hadjiprodromou’s was one of the three biggest private collections in Cyprus at the time, along with the Severis collection in Nicosia and the Pierides collection in Larnaca.
After the invasion when the residents of Famagusta fled their homes, Hadjiprodromou’s residence was looted and his massive collection taken and later scattered around the world.
The figurine he has just donated was repatriated from Munich in August 2015 along with other stolen artefacts and religious icons that were in the possession of Turkish antiquities dealer Aydin Dikmen, after a long legal battle in Germany.
In October 1997, Dikmen was found in possession of several thousand items from various countries of which Cyprus laid claim to around 300. The estimated worth at the time of all of the items found was more than $40m. The antiquities were found hidden behind fake walls and under the floors in two apartments Dikmen occupied in Munich. In addition to the frescoes and icons, Bavarian police also found statues, terracotta pots and coins.
In September 2010 a German court ordered the return of a large number of the artefacts ruling that the Cyprus Church had succeeded in proving provenance for each item.
Dikmen appealed but just over two years later in March 2013, the appeals court ruled that part of the stolen religious artefacts should be returned to Cyprus.
The returned and now-donated figurine, which depicts a baby in a cradle, dates to the Middle Bronze Age, 2000-1650 BC. It is adorned with painted motifs and it belongs to a rare category of figurines. Four similar ones were also returned to Hadjiprodromou.
“Mr Hadjiprodromou generously donated it,” the antiquities department official told the Sunday Mail.
“It’s a unique piece and very important. It belonged to a small number of cradle figurines. There is a similar piece at the Pierides museum that is closely related. We don’t have one of these,” she added.
Hadjiprodromou told the Sunday Mail he had given it to the museum because the antiquities department “was anxious for me to donate it”. “They did not have any of this type,” he said.
Speaking of his lost collection artefacts that he amassed between 1963 and 1974, Hadjiprodromou said he had acquired the cradle figurine in 1972 but only enjoyed ownership for two years.
An estimated 20,000 religious, historical, and prehistoric artefacts were smuggled out of Cyprus in the years that followed the 1974 Turkish invasion.
“I had 1,622 pieces in the collection with artefacts as old as 9,000 years right up to the 19th century,” Hadjiprodromou said.
“It was one of the best collections on the island covering all periods of Cyprus’ history.”
When he began collecting in 1963, Hadjiprodromou said: “I bought them to keep and protect them, not to trade them.”
Prior to independence, the British colonial rulers forbade the collection of antiquities but after the intercommunal troubles began in 1963 there was, according to many accounts, a spate of artefact looting that could not be properly checked due to the political situation so those who declared their private collections and were not engaged in the antiquities trade were given a free pass to hold on to the items for posterity.
Hadjiprodromou said so far, 42 years later, he has only been able to recover around 30 pieces from his entire collection.
He did have some good news on Friday when another piece, an ancient clay figurine, was repatriated from the UK. The artefact depicts a horse and rider/warrior and dates to the Cypro-Archaic period, approximately 700 BC.
it was identified by department of antiquities officials on the website of a London-based antiques dealership.
Following a request by the department and the Cyprus police, the shop handed over the figurine to the London Metropolitan police, who in turn, returned it to the department of antiquities.
Hadjiprodromou said the figurine was a child’s toy from the era in question and was glad to see it returned but at this stage of his life, he said, the days of having a private collection again were not on the cards. “I am 87 years old…,” he said.
“Mr Hadjiprodromou had a very important and rich collection that was lost,” the antiquities department official said.
She said that now, as the older generation passes, the younger ones who inherit are more often willing to donate items to the museum.
Another donation earlier this year came from Kate Clerides, the daughter of the former president Glafcos Clerides, with a host of items from her late parents’ collection of antiques.
The collection consists of carpets, furniture, silver-ware and lighting fixtures. A large part of the collection is now on display in the Ethnological Museum, at the House of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios in Nicosia.
“It’s a new approach. Many don’t want to keep a private collection anymore,” the antiquities official said. “People from abroad contact us now and ask if they can send back pieces that were exported 50 or 60 years ago.”
The official defended the antiquities department’s close guarding of the treasures in its possession even though many more pieces lie in museum basements than are on display, although plans are afoot for a new and bigger Cyprus museum with a budget of €50m.
“They’re not wasted in basements,” the official said. Just because the items are in the basement of the museum did not mean they were not important, she added. “Many pieces are important for many reasons. People come to study them from all over the world and they are safely protected in the museum.”
The Hadjiprodromou cradle figurine is to be included in an exhibition organised by the department late next month within the framework of a research programme Saving Prehistoric Antiquities under Threat (SPAUT). After the exhibition the figurine will be on permanent display in the Cyprus Museum.