The Transfiguration Cathedral iconostasis vanished back in 1923 [from the renowned monastery in European Russia's north, which Bolsheviks made into one of the most cruel convict camps.] Seven of its icons, all of the 17th century, recently surfaced, and were intended for an auction of April 29 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
"Now, the corporation will do with the treasure what it deems best. I have ceded the iconostasis as my age and financial position make it hard for me to keep it on, and maintain it," said the proprietor.
He makes it a point that he has not sold the iconostasis to the Canadian company.
"The masterpiece was made in Russia, and I deem it best to return it to Russia," said the interviewee.
The iconostasis is presently in the Netherlands. The proprietor and Dmitry Tamoikin, corporation manager, are now in that country to make yet another thorough expertise and have a look at certain related materials of major interest.
The proprietor complained of the difficulties besetting him for four years now, as he seeks to sell his treasure to Russia - to no avail.
He is also in possession of several priceless 16th and 17th century Russian books, which were discovered together with the iconostasis. Spectacular among them is a printed service ritual book - an exemplary revised service book of Patriarch Nikon's ecclesiastical reform. It was circulated in all Russian dioceses to start a dramatic Church schism that swept the country in the 17th century. Another book, an extreme rarity, is a manuscript icon-painting manual of the Russian Church of the Old Rite, said our interviewee.
When asked why he had chosen the Tamoikins Corporation to make use of the iconostasis, he pointed out its excellent methods of Russian antiquarian item evaluation. Besides, the corporation is cooperating with top-notch legal experts, who under no circumstances trespass the law, and have their every step perfectly open. Last but not least, the corporation has smooth and long-established contacts in art dealing.
More details came from Dmitry Tamoikin, our other interviewee. His corporation's own expertise of the Solovki iconostasis fully revealed its unprecedented value. The discovery moved the corporation to "elaborate its own plan to bring the treasure back to Russia. This is the most important thing to us," he said.
"We came in touch with Russian political and business circles to implement our plan. The iconostasis proprietor granted us an exclusive right to sell it. The precious article cannot be purchased bypassing us, and we are the only to negotiate on the matter," stressed Tamoikin.
The corporation is presently in contact with Russia, he added, making it a point not to specify with whom. "It's an extremely complicated matter," he only remarked.
"The iconostasis is presently evaluated at two million euros, to say nothing of tentative expenditures to follow. That's very cheap for the masterpiece it is. Our corporation will gain next to nothing with the sale," Tamoikin went on.
"We have put off the Reykjavik auction to offer Russia a chance to regain the iconostasis. If it fails to make the purchase, we shall, regrettably, have to auction the treasure off, with all bidders for an equal start. Certain US and Japanese corporations and individual bidders are offering us something like ten million euros as starting price."
Russia's business circles have collected 300,000 euros for today to acquire the iconostasis. That's "encouraging" and might serve as a basis to start talks, he said.
Far less encouraging information is coming from Russia. The government has determined not to purchase the icons, Anatoly Vilkov said last week. He is deputy chief of the Federal Service for Supervision of Compliance with the Law in Mass Communications and Cultural Heritage Protection.
Vilkov referred to expert analyses to say that the Russian government would pay just $300,000 for the seven icons, even if it had determined to make the purchase.
He is, however, anxious to see the treasure back. "If someone buys the icons to cede them to the Church, that will be a noble thing to do," Vilkov concluded.