Newsletter Archive: Spring 2003
Constantine Leventis (1938-2002),
Courtauld postgraduate student cleaning 16th-century wall painting at the Church of St. John the Baptist, Askas, Cyprus
Leventis is indelibly linked with the cultural heritage of Cyprus. For
the international museum-goer, this is most conspicuous through the
Leventis galleries of Cypriot art at the Metropolitan, the Fitzwilliam,
and the British Museum. But these magnificent installations are only
the tip of the iceberg of Leventis philanthropy. As Chairman of the
A. G. Leventis Foundation from its inception in 1979 until his death
last year, Dino Leventis oversaw a wide-ranging programme of support
for education, research, conservation and publication. Although the
principal areas of support focus on Hellenic history and culture, the
Foundations achievements in other areas-such,
as agricultural training schools in West Africa, are considerable.
Educated at Harrow and Clare College, Cambridge where he read classics, Dino Leventis was appointed Permanent Delegate of Cyprus to UNESCO in 1977 and worked determinedly both to protect the cultural heritage of Cyprus and to bring about a rapprochement between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Protection took two forms: purchase of artefacts smuggled out of the country, which were then donated to museums and legal pursuit of looted objects, such as the landmark Kanakaria mosaics decision in the US which set a precedent for the return of illicitly traded cultural property. At the same time, he worked tirelessly to improve relations between divided Cypriots, sponsoring conferences and supporting the British Parliamentary group Friends of Cyprus.
Within this far-flung philanthropy, the Courtauld Institute has been a long-term and grateful beneficiary. Since 1991 the Leventis Foundation has supported mural painting conservation programmes in Cyprus undertaken by the Institutes Conservation of Wall Painting Department in collaboration with the Cypriot Department of Antiquities. Projects have been completed at the churches of Monagri and Askas, and conservation is continuing on the important painting scheme in the church of Agios Sozomenos, Galata, signed by the artist Symeon Axentis and dated 3 September 1513.
Throughout the years of support from the Foundation, Dino Leventis took a keen interest in the conservation of this extremely important part of the Cypriot cultural heritage. He constantly astounded us with his detailed knowledge of virtually all the monuments of the island. When the conservation programme in Galata was first mooted, it emerged that he had already visited the church with the bishop to discuss its conservation needs in detail.
He took an equally keen interest in education, consistently the Foundations largest expenditure. Again, the department has benefited directly; Cypriot Ioanna Kakoulli, who undertook her postgraduate diploma and an MA in wall painting conservation at the Institute and then went on to complete a DPhil at Oxford, was funded throughout by the Leventis Foundation.
In her obituary of Dino Leventis, Judith Herrin wrote that 'He said little, smiled a lot, and did innumerable good deeds. He was a man whose unassuming character belied his extraordinary erudition and unfailing kindness. Modest is the word that constantly recurs in tributes. One searches in vain for even a single mention of his name in the 200-page volume published by the Foundation to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. For those who knew Dino Leventis this is not surprising.
Sharon Cather — Conservation of Wall Paintings