Iraklion splashes out

Climbing out on a limb yesterday, Crete’s largest town bought at auction a paperback-sized painting, attributed to the island’s greatest artist, for over a million euros – on the strength of a bank letter of guarantee. The Municipality of Iraklion secured «The Baptism of Christ,» which was marketed as having been painted by 16th century artist Domenikos Theotocopoulos – known in the west as El Greco – with a winning bid of 789,250 pounds (1.15 million euros) at a Christie’s sale in London. This followed a campaign launched on November 29 for cash to bid for the recently discovered painting, for which the sale estimate was 400,000-600,000 pounds (577,000-866,000 euros). Local businessmen contributed donations to the effort, as did Greeks of the diaspora with roots in Crete, while the collection plate was passed among Cretan congregations for that purpose. However, as Iraklion Mayor Yiannis Kourakis, who led the campaign, conceded after the purchase yesterday, further effort is still required. «We have bought a painting by Domenikos Theotocopoulos, internationally recognized as one of the finest painters in the world,» he said. «We are certain that citizens and institutions will acknowledge the symbolic and practical value of this act, and will help us raise the necessary sum.» The painting was bought on the strength of a letter of guarantee from the Cretan Cooperative Bank, and the cash sum will have to be paid within two weeks. Currently, only one work by Theotocopoulos (1541-1614) is displayed on his native island. «View of Mt Sinai and the Monastery» was bought at a private London auction 14 years ago and is now in the Historical Museum of Crete in Iraklion.