I could feel the weight of the velvet, of the rich details, through the glass. The embroidery caught the light like thousands of flecks of gold. It was difficult to imagine the long, labored work (of perhaps more than one set of hands) discarded to be thrown away or destroyed. This garment is a just one of many Russian sacred objects that were rescued from destruction by Marjorie Post.
The Hillwood Estate in Washington, D.C. was purchased by Post in the mid 1950s. It is a grandeoise archive of 18th century French art and décor with 25 acres of elegant gardens. Post decorated her home with these carefully curated collections. Among them is Russian art, including sacred works. Beginning in the 1920’s, religious expression became restricted under the Soviet Union. The ideal was to eliminate religion altogether. Believers were harassed and atheism was preached above other ideas. Sacred space—the church—and sacred objects, were confiscated for the purpose of being destroyed or sold. Post, an American living in Russia at the time, managed to purchase remnants of the Catholic churches.
The Icon Room in the Hillwood Estate shows the breadth of iconography’s many forms. Post collected diverse works within this distinctive style. At the end of the second-floor hall, the Russian Sacred Arts gallery is a softly lit room with calm, green walls. It houses the gilded objects that were once revered, then cast off before Post saw their relevance and beauty. Post’s collection is of pieces that were created for corporate worship and ceremonies, as well as intimate objects once used for private contemplation. Small images of saints are masterfully crafted with gems and precious metals. It is here that the fine craftsmanship of the priests vestments can be found.
Among her other collections, Post’s estate preserved beautiful artifacts from a painful time in Russia’s history. Outside of Russia itself, the estate houses largest collection of imperial art among these works.
For more information, visit http://www.hillwoodmuseum.org/russian-collection
4155 Linnean Avenue
Washington, DC 20008