Menil Byzantine frescoes en route to Cyprus

Largest Byzantine frescoes in the Western Hemisphere were removed

Published on 15 March 2012

Author(s): Art Daily


Over the past two days, the largest intact Byzantine frescoes in the Western Hemisphere were removed from their home in Houston, Texas.

The extraordinary story of the two relics began more than 20 years ago, when they were rescued from the black market by Menil Collection founder Dominique de Menil after being looted from a Chapel in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus and dismantled into 38 pieces with a chainsaw. Following a groundbreaking agreement between the Menil and the Archbishopric of Cyprus, the frescoes were restored and have spent the last 15 years in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel. The concluding leg of their journey began earlier this week, when the frescoes were removed from the Chapel and prepped for the journey to their homeland.

Cyprus lYSI Dome fresco installed in Byzantine Fresco Chapel, Houston.  Paul Warchol Photography 1996.Menil-Collection-2.jpg
lYSI Dome fresco installed in Byzantine Fresco Chapel, Houston. © Paul Warchol Photography 1996.

In 1983, Dominique de Menil, founder of the Menil Collection, was presented with an extraordinary prospect: to acquire two 13th century frescoes from Cyprus. Mrs. de Menil was struck by their beauty and understood immediately their art historical significance. However, after further research Mrs. de Menil learned that the frescoes had been stolen from their home in a small votive chapel in Lysi, Cyprus.

That knowledge led to an act of extraordinary generosity—in fact, a series of generous actions that eventually engaged many other people. First, the frescoes were acquired by the Menil Collection on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Then, the Menil Foundation supervised the restoration of the frescoes, which had been cut into more than 30 pieces when they were stolen. In gratitude, the Church lent the frescoes to the Menil on a long-term basis, for presentation in a consecrated chapel in Houston. The Byzantine Fresco Chapel opened to the public in 1997, with support for its construction provided by donors in Houston and across the country.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have seen the frescoes and experienced the majesty of Cypriot Byzantine art and religion. Moreover, the frescoes’ installation in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel—a consecrated space that simultaneously honors their sacred origins and the tragic history of their looting from their true home church in Lysi—includes a profound, sacred dimension and is therefore different from traditional museum presentations of antiquities.

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