Royal Russia – March 2016
An icon belonging to Emperor Alexander III’s brother, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich (1850-1908), was returned to Tsarskoye Selo on 25 March 2016.
Preserved in the Museum’s collection until World War II, the Icon of the Mother of God Quick to Hearken has been donated to the museum by Ms Gabriele Demming from Germany.
She and her sister, Ingeborg Schenk, inherited the icon after their father’s death in 2014. Their uncle Franz Feldhaus was a chaplain assigned to the military unit ‘I.D.58’. There are no details as to how the icon got into the man’s hands, but he was known to have used it at his unit’s field altar during services. He passed the icon onto his mother, Gabriele and Ingeborg’s grandmother, shortly before he died in Neukuhren (now Pionersky, Kaliningrad Oblast) in February 1945. The icon was later inherited by his brother, Gabriele and Ingeborg’s father.
The sisters tried to look for the icon’s original owner and sought help from Professor Wolfgang Eichwede of the University of Bremen, a well-known German historian who found this icon listed in the Summary Catalogue of the Cultural Valuables Stolen and Lost During World War II.
The icon comes from the historic collection of Tsarskoye Selo. It was registered in a pre-war inventory of the Museum and bears the inventory numbers but was not evacuated from the Catherine Palace in 1941.
According to an inscription on it, the icon was presented to Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich on 21 May 1875 during his second visit to the monastic state of Mount Athos in Greece. He stopped there during his 339-day voyage around the Greek Archipelago and the Mediterranean on the frigate Svetlana in 1875-6. He also visited Queen Olga of Greece (née Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinovna), his aunt in Athens.
On the way from Constantinople in July 1867, Alexei landed on the shores of Athos for the first time and witnessed the laying of the Cathedral of St Apostle Andrew. The Grand Duke presented a six-ton bell for its 40 m bell tower, the highest one on Mount Athos with twenty five bells.
According to tradition, the Quick to Hearken icon is one of the oldest icons of the Mother of God, originally painted on Mount Athos in the 10th century and now kept there at the Docheiariou, an Eastern Orthodox monastery. The later copy presented to Grand Duke Alexei was revered in the Romanov Family, especially by Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna and by the family of Emperor Nicholas II, in whose rooms at the Alexander Palace it is believed to have been kept.