Before and after photographs of damaged fresco. Image: Auron Tare
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.
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.