Dumbarton Oaks is a historic estate in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. It was the residence and gardens of Robert Woods Bliss (1875–1962) and his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss (1879–1969).

Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss were enthusiastic collectors and judicious patrons of scholarship and the arts. A graduate of Harvard University, Robert Bliss pursued a distinguished career as an officer and diplomat in the Foreign Service. Mildred Bliss inherited a fortune from her family's investment in the patent medicine Fletcher's Castoria. Sharing a taste in the art of little-known or under-appreciated cultures, the Blisses developed unique collections with the help of knowledgeable friends and scholarly advisors. They envisioned Dumbarton Oaks as a home of the Humanities, a place of natural serenity and intellectual adventure.

The Dumbarton Oaks Museum features collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art, as well as European artworks and furnishings. Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss initiated these collections in the first half of the twentieth century and provided the vision for future acquisitions even after giving Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University.

The Byzantine Collection spans the imperial, ecclesiastical, and secular realms and comprises more than 1,200 objects from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries. Although the collection emphasizes objects of precious materials, underscoring the conception of Byzantine art as luxury art, the collection also includes large-scale works such as mosaics from Antioch and relief sculpture, as well as more than two hundred textiles and comprehensive holdings of coins and seals. In addition to its Byzantine holdings, the collection includes Greek, Roman, and western medieval artworks and objects from the ancient Near East, pharaonic and Ptolemaic Egypt, and various Islamic cultures.

The Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art comprises objects from the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica, the Intermediate Area, and the Andes. Among its most important holdings are a variety of sculptures in stone, including carvings of Aztec deities and animals and several large relief panels bearing the likenesses of Maya kings. In addition there are sculpted anthropomorphic figurines and polished jade renderings of ritual objects from the Olmec, Veracruz, and Teotihuacan cultures as well as molded and painted ceramics of the Nasca, Moche, and Wari cultures. Gold and silver objects from the Chavín, Lambayeque, Chimú, and Inca cultures offer evidence of the expertise achieved by Andean metalsmiths, and over forty textiles and works in feathers testify to the importance of fiber arts in this region.

The House Collection consists primarily of Dumbarton Oaks' historic buildings and interiors, Asian, European, and American artworks, and interior furnishings. Principal to the collection is the renaissance-style music room. The ceiling and flooring of this room were inspired by examples at the guardroom of the historic Château de Cheverny near Paris and were fabricated by the Parisian designer, Armand Albert Rateau. The music room features displays of tapestries, sculptures, paintings, and furniture dating from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The Blisses used the music room for hosting musical programs and scholarly lectures, and it continues to serve these purposes.

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Category: Museums in United States

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User Reviews

Derek Silvestri (2 months ago)
If you are looking for Byzantine collection and Renaissance-style music room, Highly recommended...
Yolanda Williams (3 months ago)
my favorite museum, it's free and so inspiring
Xiaodan Dai (14 months ago)
Free to go in to the garden during the winter. Had a nice stroll around. I can imagine how gorgeous this place is during the summer. Was neat to see the museum portion - unfortunately it just so happened that some parts of it was closed when we were there.
Russ Rosenlof (14 months ago)
If you like gardens and small museum collections, stop by if you're in the area. The gardens are great, didn't expect to find them at in in this area. The museum has some varied and interesting items, the building and grounds though are probably the most memorable part to me.
Brittany SD (2 years ago)
The dumbarton museum is beautiful, they have lockers for your personal belongings so that you can walk around freely and enjoy learning about history. I especially loved the architecture of the viewing rooms, they provide natural sound amplification for tours and speaking to a class. The items displayed throughout are well lit and have meaning text explaining the items. I really enjoyed this place and was thankful to visit. Dc has lots to offer for free
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