Russian icon collector Mikhail Abramov has sponsored the return to Russia of a 17th-century icon that was stolen from a church in the Yaroslavl region in 1995 and surfaced recently in a gallery in Venice, Italy.
Resurrection—Descent into Hell (1640) also depicts 18 scenes of feast days and Christ’s Passion. It is originally from the Church of St Nicholas Nadein, a branch of the Yaroslavl State Historical-Architectural and Art Museum Preserve.
Levon Nersesyan, a Russian icon expert at the State Tretyakov Gallery, spotted Resurrection in Venice. He was doing research at the time on Yaroslav iconography and raised questions about its provenance.
“When I saw it, it immediately became clear to me that it is above the average level of those works that usually circulate on the European antiquarian market,” he told The Art Newspaper. “It is a huge icon that should have been in the iconostasis of a big church.”
Abramov, a real estate developer, founded the Museum of the Russian Icon in Moscow, which displays Russian, Greek and Ethiopian icons from his collection. According to the museum, the Resurrection is the 20th icon Abramov has returned in the past decade to provincial museums. Many of them were plagued by theft due to poor security after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This cultural heritage is now highly prized and can sell for thousands of dollars at auction. Earlier this month, Russian media reported that an elderly couple was brutally murdered in the Nizhny Novgorod region by thieves who stole their 16th- to 17th-century icons.
Nikolai Zadorozhny, the director of the Museum of the Russian Icon, would not reveal the price paid for the icon, but said that Abramov has spent “hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars” and will continue the hunt for Russia’s lost treasures.
“I want to appeal to dealers and collectors… not to be shy about contacting us, and we will be able to find a compromise in which the owner will not suffer financially,” Zadorozhny told The Art Newspaper. “Abramov is ready to reimburse the expenses and financial losses. And at the same time we will be able to return these works to the rightful owner.”
Zadorozhny spent several years in prison for collecting icons in the Soviet era, when countless religious paintings were destroyed or sold off by the state. In 2012, the museum director was temporarily detained by police at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport while repatriating a stolen icon from Germany.
The Resurrection arrived in Russia on 9 September without incident. It will return to Yaroslavl after it is examined by restorers and displayed at the Moscow museum.