Thursday, 23 February 2017
The Russian Imperial jewelers that time forgot
When it comes to jewelers of the Russian Imperial court, the first name to be mentioned is of course Faberge, which produced gem-encrusted Easter eggs, cigarette cases made of precious metals, and other objects as presents for the royal family and aristocracy. However, there were many other official court jewelers whose skills were equally exquisite.
A favorite of three Russian empresses, Pauzie is renowned for making the grand Imperial crown for the coronation of Catherine the Great in 1762. The same crown, which was used for all subsequent Russian monarchs, has two hemispheres that symbolize the union of East and West. It is decorated with 4,936 Indian diamonds with a combined weight of 2,858 carats, as well as with 75 pearls and a large spinel. Despite this, it is not that heavy, at just under 2 kilos, and took only two months to manufacture.
Pauzie was a master gemcutter. His skills were particularly strong when it came to diamonds, which was something highly treasured by his powerful patronesses - Empress Anna, Empress Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great. During their reign the royal court literally glittered with diamonds. Pauzie wrote in his memoirs that "the ladies-in-waiting wear incredible amounts of diamonds," and that "even in their private lives they never go anywhere without first decorating themselves with jewels."
Legend has it that Swiss-born Pauzier and his father came to St. Petersburg on foot thanks to an invitation from a relative who was a surgeon with the court of Peter the Great. The father passed away shortly afterward, however, and the boy was taken as an apprentice by the French diamond-cutting master, Benedict Gravero.
By the age of 21 Pauzie already had a diamond-cutting business of his own, and this workshop went on to serve Russia's royal court and aristocracy for a quarter of a century. Apart from diamond-studded snuffboxes, clasps, brooches, state awards, and pins for court ladies' headdresses, Pauzie manufactured less expensive decorations for those of more modest means. Such `gems' would actually be made of cut glass of various colors, but they were so masterfully done that nobody at court noticed the difference.
Imperial Crown of Russia
The Bolin dynasty
When the Russian royal family was organizing the wedding dowries of the grand duchesses, they would order cutlery from Faberge and jewelry from Bolin. This fact reflects the royal family's confidence in the firm and the exclusive nature of its products.
The Bolins are one of the oldest jewelry dynasties, founded in St. Petersburg by Andrey Rempler in 1796. A native of Saxony, Rempler became court jeweler to two Russian emperors, Paul I and Alexander I, and his business was continued by sons-in-law, Ernst Jan of Germany and Karl Eduard Bolin of Sweden. To this day the company bears the name of the latter.
The story goes like this: shortly before the revolution of 1917 Vasily Bolin, one of Karl Eduard's descendants, took examples and drawings of the firm's works and went to Germany in order to open a branch in the resort town of Bad Hohenburg, where European nobility often relaxed.
When World War I started, Bolin became stuck in Europe, and while returning to St. Petersburg via Stockholm he agreed with a local banker to open a shop in the Swedish capital. One year later the Russian Revolution ended the monarchy and the St. Petersburg firm closed. The Stockholm branch, however, still supplies jewelry to Sweden's royal family.
The Bolins were renowned for their exquisite and fairly expensive jewelry, and in 1870 the company won an award at the national exhibition, "for the absolute immaculacy of work, the artful selection of gems, and the elegance of drawings throughout the firm's long history."
Unfortunately, this was also the reason why so few of Bolin's items remain. The Bolsheviks easily tracked them down with the help of confiscated account books, took the gems out and sold them separately. One of Bolin's few remaining items is owned by Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II- her diamond diadem with large pearl pendants was originally made for Russian Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. After the revolution it was taken out of Russia with the help of British diplomats, and then bought by Queen Mary, the wife of George V, and the current British queen's grandmother.
Egg on a stand
Late 19th - early 20th century
Design of an onyx bowl
The Sazikov firm, founded in the late 18th century, made its first claim to fame at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, where Ignaty Sazikov showcased the Russian national style. Sazikov's silver workshop was founded in Moscow, and produced all types of silverware: from small salt spoons to icon rizas, and even icon screens for churches.
The articles differed in artistic value and prices, ranging from the most ordinary to exclusive ones intended for the royal court and for trade fairs.
Ignaty Sazikov, the founder's son, was the dynasty's most renowned member, and his talent earned him the unofficial title of Russia's Benvenuto Cellini, in reference to the famous Italian goldsmith. Ignaty started the fashion of using ancient Russian dinnerware shapes and rustic motifs, and popularizing the Russian style in jewelry that became immensely popular in the second half of the 19th century.
Tea and coffee service
Sazikov contracted to prominent artists and sculptors to work on his orders. For example, the silver Byzantine dinnerware was made for the wedding of Alexander II's younger brother, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich. It was designed by Fedor Solntsev, an artist and archeologist who specialized in Old Russian art. There was also an indoor sculpture representing a trio of horses created with the assistance of Eugene Lanceray, the famous painter and sculptor.
The company ran shops and production facilities until early 1887, and then sold them to the Khlebnikov firm.
Stylized seashell for nuts
Ivan Khlebnikov's workshop, founded in 1871, made articles from gold, silver, and diamonds. While it did not last for long, it supplied items not just to the Russian royal family but also to the Dutch, Danish, Montenegrin, and Serbian royal courts. The factory specialized in the Russian style, and its masters were especially famous for using silver to reproduce the textures of natural materials, such as wood, bast, and fabric. Their all-silver bast baskets with a linen napkin draped over the top looked like "the real thing."
Much attention was paid to enamels, and Khlebnikov's writing sets, cigarette cases, and snuffboxes were covered in multicolored ornaments. Virtually every one of the company's products was designed with imagination, including salt cellars shaped as thrones, cutlery resembling ancient goblets and pitchers, inkwells in the shape of traditional Russian palaces, or samovar boiling tanks in the form of roosters, complete with cups mounted on symbolic chicken legs.
Khlebnikov's shot glasses were also popular; to put one on the table, you needed to turn it upside down, which meant you had to drink it in one shot. The bottom featured figurines of dancing peasants. The design of Khlebnikov's expensive gift items involved scenes from Russian history, such as events in the lives of monastic reformer Sergius of Radonezh, and Ivan the Terrible.
Khlebnikov would often receive commissions from the Kremlin, and these included the icon screen in the Cathedral of the Annunciation and sacramental items for the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
This firm was a trendsetter on the Russian pre-revolution jewelry market. The founder, Pavel Ovchinnokov, was released from serfdom for his amazing drawing talent. The Ovchinnikov products were all in the Russian style, but they had their identity.
He revived and developed the art of producing enamels. Thin layers of enamel over filigree were applied to the company's dinnerware and icon rizas: the ornament would be created with the use of a silver thread, and the spaces between the individual threads would be filled with enamel of different colors. This was even more complex than the "stained-glass" enamel technique pioneered by Ovchinnikov. Without any solid base, this enamel looked like a glass painting in a Gothic cathedral if held up to light.
The company also used the ancient niello technique to create engravings of the Kremlin and Moscow cathedrals. One of the firm's most prominent works was a luxurious icon screen, made of silver and gold, for the Kremlin's Dormition Cathedral.
Ovchinnikov was one of the first entrepreneurs of the 19th century to realize the importance of artistic education, and he founded a school for talented young people to study goldsmithery for five or six years.
This dynasty of jewelers was working in St. Petersburg since the end of the 18th century, but originally had German roots. The craftsmen made jewelry with gold and diamonds for the royal court, including the crown for the coronation of Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicholas I.
Their hallmark items were state medals and decorations, mostly dating to the second half of the 19th century. Starting in 1841, Wilhelm Keibel, and then his son and grandson, were the sole official manufacturers of state awards for the Capitulum - the state authority in Imperial Russia in charge of state medals - until the end of the 19th century.
Despite the strict official standards, Wilhelm Keibel introduced changes to the design of some of the medals. Prior to him, the eagles depicted on the orders of St. Alexander Nevsky and St. Stanislav had their wings lowered and spread after the fashion of the coins of that time. Apart from the most important gold state medals, Keibel mass-produced less expensive state honors.
At the turn of the 20th century, however, the company faced stiff competition from a newly established company that was named as the Capitulum's second official supplier. Keibel ceased operations by 1910.
The Imperial State Medal of Saint Alexander Nevsky
Text by Irina Osipova
Edited by Oleg Krasnov
Images credits: Topfoto/Vostock-Photo, RIA Novosti, A.Sushenok / Sobranie museum, State Historical Museum, Museum of Faberge, 'Coins and medals' company
Design and layout by Anastasiya Karagodina
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