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Altar Cloth (Pokrovets)

Altar Cloth (Pokrovets)

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Ecclesiastical embroidery was created exclusively by women either in a convent or in a noble household for use in a Russian Orthodox church. This object is a pokrovets, an altar cloth used to cover the chalice or dish (paten) used is the liturgy of the Eucharist, emphasizing the sacredness of the Eucharistic elements (the wine and the bread) that would have been contained in the vessel itself. The cross shape of the pokrovets with its four flaps facilitates the draping of the altar cloth over a vessel. The iconography on this particular pokrovets includes, on one of the flaps, a scene of Christ rising from his tomb (having been opened by an angel) with two sleeping soldiers in the foreground, and on the other three flaps, an identical scene of two angels holding ceremonial fans flanking a gospel book with a cross and the dove of the Holy Spirit above. Eucharistic symbols include the central cross with sheafs of wheat and a grape vine ornament. The red color of the velvet and the theme of the Resurrection suggests that this pokrovets belonged to a set used during the Easter liturgies. Handwritten inscriptions on the backing fabric relate to the donation of this pokrovets to a monastery on the date “1855 December 4[?]” and the monastery inventory number “N. 82.” Under Soviet rule and the accompanying persecution of religion, monasteries were closed and their liturgical furnishings were sold in Soviet commission shops. This embroidery was formerly in the collection of Emlen Knight Davies (Grosjean Evers), who accompanied her father, Joseph E. Davies, UW Class of 1898, Law School Class of 1901, to the Soviet Union during his ambassadorship in 1937-38, when this embroidery was acquired either by Davies himself or his daughter on one of their regular visits to the commission shops (from which he also acquired other works now in the Chazen Museum collection).
Unknown (Russian)
Altar Cloth (Pokrovets)
19th century, before 1855
Silk, gold and silver thread embroidery, spangles (Blestki), and oil paint on velvet and silk
22 x 21 1/2 in. overall
Gift of Mia Grosjean from the Joseph E. Davies collection
Accession No.


December 1855, donated to an unknown monastery [per inscription on verso]; 1937-1938, acquired in Russia by Ambassador Joseph E. Davies or Emlen Knight Davies (Grosjean Evers) [daughter of Ambassador Joseph E. Davies]; ca. 1980, gifted by Emlen Knight Davies (Grosjean Evers) to her daughter, Mia Grosjean (Washington, DC); 2019, gifted to the Chazen Museum of Art.

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