Visit to Bob Jones University’s M&G and my rant about Elgin

Last week I popped over to Bob Jones University’s Museum & Gallery (Heritage Green – Buncombe Street in Greenville, SC) to see “Rublev to Faberge’: The Journey of Russian Art and Culture to America.” The exhibition primarily focuses on icons from the Russian Orthodox Church, most of which came to the US and to Bob Jones after the Bolshevik Revolution.

The exhibit itself was amazing. I wish I could share images but photography is not allowed in either of the M&G locations. It’s also a bit disappointing that the M&G website does not show images from the collection.

The works are displayed along a timeline beginning with a piece created by Andrei Rublev in the 1300’s and continuing past the Bolshevik Revolution and murders of the Romanov family. The icons vary greatly. Some of the images are small and unadorned and others feature a painting of Christ (or another religious figure) with clothing made from silver filigree. Some of the icons have been embellished with semi-precious stones in the frame or as part of the piece itself.

The icon stood out most to me was an acheiropoieta or an icon that is said to be an image of Christ that was not produced by a human hand.  The icons of this class are said to be reproductions of a cloth featuring Christ’s image. One of the icons in the M&G collection that fell into this category was truly haunting. The face of Christ seemed to glow and the expression was full of both grace and sorrow.

As I made my way through the museum and came to learn that many of the icons there were purchased from Armand Hammer, who traveled to the then Soviet Union in 1921. There are several accounts of what he planned to do there – provide medical aid or feed the starving peasants – but, what he ended up doing best was collecting Russian icons and other works of art. In truth, the communists had destroyed thousands of the Orthodox icons and pieces belonging to the Romanov’s so his actions did save a fair amount of Russian art that was then brought the the US to be sold. It’s likely that many of the pieces would have been destroyed without his intervention but with so many of its treasures found in galleries and private homes around the world, it’s easy to understand why Russia doesn’t want these icons going home with tourists now.

It got me to thinking about the Pergamon Altar, Elgin Marbles, Caryatid, and countless other pieces that are tucked away in museums far away from their homelands. I could go on and on about the Caryatid in particular and how I think she should be shipped back to Athens immediately but this most is about a day at the M&G and not Elginism. It’s just that even though I enjoyed seeing the icons, I felt a little sad for the Russian people who might never get the chance to see some of these treasures.

I enjoyed my day at M&G and look forward to taking in the many lovely works of art found in the main location on the Bob Jones campus.

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