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(DF) Prosecutors, Restorers Seize Items from Businessman Bozhkov’s Art Collection

February 3 (BTA) – Prosecutors and restorers Monday entered Nove Holding’s office to impound items from the collection of businessman Vassil Bozhkov, a major art collector, who was charged last week with tax fraud and extortion among other crimes. Meanwhile, it became clear that valuable paintings had been removed from his home, the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) reported. As experts voiced concern that the paintings and the collection of some 3,000 antique artifacts would be treated unprofessionally, Culture Minister Boil Banov Friday gave assurances that the valuable objects would be preserved. About 20 paintings have already been removed from Bozhkov’s home, the Culture Ministry said. The collector’s items will be stored in two locations – the National Art Gallery and the National History Museum. National Art Gallery Director Yaroslava Bubnova told BNR that the paintings were being seized by a commission made up of gallery staff, a restorer and art historians. Each work is catalogued, its condition is detailed, then it is packed by restorers and removed by the gallery’s staff. “This will be a very long process,” she said, explaining that she was following instructions from the Specialized Prosecution Office and an order by the Culture Minister. Bozhkov’s collection is yet to be valued. He himself told the Troud daily in the early 2000s: “I buy from people who buy from treasure hunters.” Speaking to the Bulgarian National Television on Monday, history professor Ivan Marazov said Bozhkov owns the world’s best collection of antique toreutics: “It includes many rhytons, many more than all museums worldwide. It also features numerous kylixes and phiales. The collection gives an idea of the development of that art not just in ancient Thrace but across the ancient world. That is why I believe that its study and its place in academia is of exceptional significance.” Prof. Marazov is a member of Bozhkov’s Thrace Foundation, which promotes and supports the preservation of cultural property which is part of Bulgaria’s and the world’s cultural and historical heritage. He believes that it is one of the State’s prime tasks to preserve the collection. It should neither be scattered nor sold, but should remain as one of the most remarkable museum collections in Bulgaria. Asked why the objects are not in a museum but in a private collection, Marazov said it is probably because museums cannot spend 2.5 million euro to buy a rhyton, which is what Bozhkov did. Asked why Bozhkov was a collector, Marazov quoted Bogomil Rainov, a prominent figure in Bulgarian art circles, who said that collecting is an illness. In that sense, Bozhkov was an ill man. He was very happy when he bought something good and was proud to show it. “I assume it was the desire to make the best collection that spurred him on. He also supported archaeological excavations,” said Marazov. Questioned about the recommendations he made as the collection grew, Marazov recalled that Bozhkov invited him in 2005 and he recommended collecting ancient Greek and Thracian objects. By then Bozhkov had acquired numerous Roman artifacts. In just five years, he bought a huge number of artifacts unparalleled in museum exhibitions worldwide. He also established his own laboratory where the objects underwent conservation and restoration. Marazov argued that the items should all stay where they are now. Commenting on the seizure, the professor said they would be stored in the art gallery and the museum, away from both the public and experts. The professor’s team did everything in their power to enter them in academic circulation. This is extremely important because the more objects one knows, the better picture of antiquity one can assemble. For example, one of the rhytons features a scene from the late 5th century BC inspired by a lost Euripides tragedy. And since the exact date of its staging is known, the object itself can de dated precisely. LN/BR