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History of the House Collection

Music Room ca. 1940

In her teenage years, Mildred Bliss (née Barnes) was already collecting prints, watercolors, rare books, and textiles. After their marriage in 1908, the Blisses began collecting together, first purchasing English antique furnishings from the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries as well as important but smaller-scale western Medieval tapestries. Their growing interest in Medieval art led to important acquisitions of French Gothic sculptures. They were also attracted to the French Impressionists and famously acquired Degas's Song Rehearsal in 1918 at the artist's estate sale.

After purchasing Dumbarton Oaks in 1920, the Blisses began planning as early as 1924 for a Music Room. This room, more than any other in the house, would come to embody the Blisses' taste both as collectors and connoisseurs. In 1929, the Blisses purchased Italian Renaissance furniture from the Brambilla collection at the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. They also acquired significant antique rugs, which due to their fragility can no longer be displayed. In the early 1930s, they obtained two important, large-scale tapestries, The Month of April and The Prince of Malice, and a portrait of Mary of Burgundy by the German Renaissance artist, Bernhard Strigel.

In the late 1930s, as they prepared to give the property and collection to Harvard, the Blisses continued to acquire for the Music Room. These latter acquisitions were of exceptionally high quality and included Tilman Riemenschneider's early sixteenth-century lindenwood sculpture Virgin and Child on the Crescent Moon and El Greco's early seventeenth-century Visitation.

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