By Sophia Kishkovsky
The property developer Sergei Shmakov has spent over a year tracking down the works, which were removed from Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution and during the second world war
Sergei Shmakov and the Toropets Virgin Mary
MOSCOW. A Russian businessman has donated more than 70 icons with an estimated value of Ru 30m (around $1m) to the Russian Orthodox Church. Property mogul Sergei Shmakov has spent over a year tracking down the icons—which were taken out of Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution and during the second world war—at auctions, antique stores and flea markets abroad. The icons include a rare mid-18th-century icon, St John the Theologian in Silence, which depicts the apostle with his fingers over his lips and an angel peering over his shoulder as he contemplates the gospel he is composing.
At a ceremony on 4 October, the Russian culture minister Alexander Avdeyev praised Shmakov for his donation. “Your help is a matter of great patriotism,” said Avdeyev. “You could have spent your money on something else, on developing your business, for example, but you are returning to Russia not only sacred, but cultural treasures, works of art.”
The culture ministry said that Avdeyev had accompanied Shmakov on some of his travels abroad in search of the icons. Avdeyev supported a law passed last November that calls for the return of religious property seized by the state after the revolution to the Church. The law, which focuses on real estate, triggered fears that the Russian Orthodox Church would lay claim to all icons in museums.
In 2009, the state-run Russian Museum in St Petersburg agreed to loan a 14th-century icon of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, known as the Toropets Virgin Mary, to a church built by Shmakov near one of his housing developments outside Moscow. The loan has been extended several times, provoking outcry among the media and museum officials. At the October ceremony, Avdeyev announced that the icon would be sent for at least one year to the Toropets monastery in the Tver region from which it was taken. However, the icon, said Avdeyev, would remain federal museum property.
Shmakov paid for a special dual layer climate-controlled capsule to protect the icon at the Church of St Alexander Nevsky where it is currently located, and said a similar capsule that regulates ventilation and humidity and provides protection from vandals is being created for the Toropets monastery. Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, the secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate’s culture committee, said hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Russians have had the opportunity to venerate the icon at the Church of St Alexander Nevsky. It had not been displayed at the Russian Museum because of fears that it was too fragile. Museum experts have warned, for example, that candle wax is a serious threat to icons.