By Michael E. Miller
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Irina Anastasia Bogatchev was born in Florence, Italy, the only child of an Italian mother and a Russian Orthodox priest. She says she was raised in a monastery in Zagorsk, Russia, under the tutelage of another Russian Orthodox priest and uncle, where she learned age-old techniques used by Italian Renaissance artists, among other things. “We were self-sufficient,” Anastasia recalls. “We would only buy what we could not produce ourselves.”
In 1989, at the age of 23, she left the monastery to discover the outside world. She slept in train stations until landing work as a model in Milan. While modeling for five years, Anastasia says she perfected her art on the side. In 1991 she got a break: She was hired as the interior designer and decorator of two restaurants in Rome and Milan. Each has more than 50 Anastasia paintings on display. In 1993 the Vatican commissioned Anastasia to do restorations and consultations on some antique frescoes, she claims. That year she created her first line of fashion, called Anastasia Couture. Then the big time: In 1997 Sylvester Stallone (she calls the actor who played Rambo “Stalloné”) commissioned her to paint a portrait in Miami of his wife, the Madonna di Stallone. She also designed for him a humidor with Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed going head to head painted on top.
Around the same time she was working on Stallone's Madonna, Anastasia met Roy Hansen at the Living Room, a very velvet-rope South Beach nightclub. They met for lunch the next day, and Hansen has been hooked ever since. While most assume the two are dating, Hansen says they simply are close friends. They live together on Palm Island and share a penthouse studio at the Floridian, located on West Avenue in South Beach. Randy Gumenick, part owner of the Floridian, also owns some works by Anastasia. He turned down an interview.
Sir Roy von Hansen, who says he comes from a family of art collectors, was vacationing in South Florida in 1995 when he decided “it was time to switch terrain and come to tropical Miami for good.” On and off he's been living in the Magic City since 1997. He says he made a living organizing events at clubs before he met Anastasia. He inherited the “von” title from his mother; the sir, however, was no hand-me-down -- that was obtained in Coral Gables, from an order of poser knights.
Hansen became a sir through the services of a peddler of phony titles, one Enrico Vigo, who calls himself Prince Henri Paleologue and claims to be a grandmaster of the Knights of Malta, a religious military order dating back to 1070. Now it's made up of wealthy Catholics who are committed to charitable and humanitarian relief and to preserving church dogma. According to Guy Stair Sainty, a historiographer of the British Order of St. John, respected scholar, and an honest-to-god certified knight, Hansen, Amato, and Vigo are not authentic Knights of Malta. South Florida, he says, is a hotbed for pseudoprinces, noble pretenders, and alternative knights who have purchased their titles.
Vigo also claims Pope John Paul II recognized him as the hereditary emperor of Byzantium and Prince of Thessaly. “This man has come from nowhere,” Sainty says. “All his claims are an absolute hoax. A butcher could have made [Hansen] a knight.” Vigo, who is originally from Germany, was once a hairdresser in Genoa. He came to South Florida because “there is a lot of money and incredibly ignorant people,” Sainty adds with a sneer. “They all dress up and go to parties and in their minds they imagine that they're part of high society Europe. It's the kind of thing that gets Americans ridiculed.” During the 1980s Vigo was a celebrated social fixture among the Palm Beach gentry. The “prince” threw one of the biggest parties in town, the Imperial Byzantine Ball, and has bestowed many South Floridians with titles for a price in ceremonies held at Palm Beach's Flagler Museum. “It's his business,” Sainty comments. Lately Vigo has been knighting people at the Biltmore Hotel. That's where Hansen became Sir Hansen this past March. Though he denies ever having paid for his title, Hansen says Anastasia had been planning to donate one of her paintings to the Miami chapter of the Knights of Malta. “That won't be happening now, that's for sure,” says an embarrassed Hansen, who says he didn't know about the bogus nature of the local knights until being informed by New Times.
On an early Tuesday afternoon, before Anastasia appears for an interview, Hansen gives New Times a museumlike tour of the studio and explains that Monster of Art “loses a lot of energy talking, so I take care of the boring stuff. She works nonstop. She gets so lost into her painting she loses time and space. She suffers from poor circulation from painting in the same position for long stretches of time; all of her blood goes to her brain and she has a very big brain.”
Hansen elaborates on the ideas that fuel her art and describes the techniques Anastasia uses to create. “The Vatican commissioned Anastasia to do this one,” Hansen says. “It's called Libre et Libre and it's painted on hardwood, which is prepared with ten layers of silk [it was the prototype for the popular library paintings]. For color she uses egg tempera, a combination of egg yolks and pulverized precious stones. The color lasts for 2000 years. It makes the piece immortal. It's the maximum you can get from a painting.” Mozart plays softly in the background, and Anastasia remains locked inside a bedroom for a full hour. “Miami hasn't realized how fortunate it is to have an artist of her stature,” Hansen boasts.