SILVERWARE FROM THE IMPERIAL GIFT FUND
THE GELOS AUCTION HOUSE’S COLLECTION OF 16 TSARIST GIFTS WAS FORMED OVER A NUMBER OF YEARS BY A PRIVATE PERSON, AND WAS ENRICHED AT REGULAR INTERVALS BY ITEMS PURCHASED ABROAD.
Thus, it contains objects which are absolutely new to the Russian art market: three kovshes (ladles), two jugs, a glass with a lid, a cup, a bratina (Russian ball-shaped vessel), a teapot, a dish, two goblets, a set of six glasses and a coffee set. Most of the exhibits were made by famous Russian silversmiths of the 17th and the 18th centuries, and served as household items in secular life. Such items were traditionally granted, on behalf of the tsar as recognition of "service", to those subjects who had made the highest contribution to the welfare of their country. When speaking about Russian tsarist gifts, one should start with the traditional, native Russian kinds of ware, the oldest of which is undoubtedly, the kovsh.
Kovshes made from precious metals, served as drinking vessels up until the last quarter of the 17th century. They were used for drinking mead - one of the most common drinks of Old Russia. In cellars, kovshes served as measuring vessels and were used for ladling various drinks from casks.
In the late 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, kovshes evolved from being mere items for practical use, into objects granted for diverse merits. Since the mid-17th century, silverware was made specifically for this purpose by the Moscow Kremlin Silver Chamber. Despite strict rules governing pattern and design the ornamental engravings on the insides were free, therefore allowing a master to showcase his talent as an ornamentalist. The size of the kovsh depended on the recipient's status, his position, and the significance of his merit. Kovshes were granted to merchants and tradesmen for contributing to the national treasury, mainly by collecting customs and tavern duties, as well as to Cossacks "for faithful service".
The earliest object in the Imperial Gift Fund is a silver-gilt kovsh, made in 1687-1688 by an unknown master of the Moscow Kremlin Silver Chamber. A vase with a bouquet is one of the carefully selected images on the kovsh's handle - an image which at that time, symbolized wealth and prosperity.
One of the most interesting tsarist gifts of the 18th century is a kovsh, which belonged to the most highly-rated Moscow silversmith of that time - Illarion Artemyev Vavilov. His mark «Ларионъ Артемъевъ» can be seen on the item. This kovsh, made in 1733, is silver-gilt, and boat-shaped. In accordance with tradition, the kovsh's underside is embossed with the eagle of the coat of arms, and the handle is decorated with an easily recognizable portrait of Empress Anna Ioannovna, in the form of a cartouche below the crown.
The production of this kovsh is related to the old tradition of presenting tsarist gifts to Cossack atamans and starshinas ("first sergeants”). An inscription on the kovsh says that it was granted by Empress Anna Ioannovna to the starshina of the Don Army Cossack Philipp Oxenov, presumably the son of the ataman Oxen Frolov, who was awarded with a similar kovsh in 1717. To be awarded a Kovsh was considered an even greater honour for the Cossacks than the award of a sabre. Granted kovshes were handed down to male heirs, or, in the absence of such an heir, were donated to the church. It is significant that since 1722 the treasury allotted a fixed amount of 16 roubles 50 kopecks to atamans, and 15 roubles to starshinas for «the kovsh's case». The inscription on the kovsh was approved by the Military Board and could not be changed without the Board's permission.
The silver-gilt dish, displayed along with the kovsh as a kind of ware, can be considered among the oldest household and table items. By the late 18th century, it had become a court tradition to grant dishes as a sign of imperial gratitude.
The dish in this collection was made in 1778 by Moscow silversmith Alexey Afanasyev Kosyrev. Its underside is chased with a relief mythological scene of Hercules bringing Cerpresumably ordered in commemoration of the customer's feats in the Russian-Turkish War of 1768 - 1774.
There are relief images on another item of the collection which are equally notable for their artistic value and rare professional workmanship. The object in question is a silver-gilt ball-shaped rocaille teapot with an ivory handle, made in 1 754. The teapot's shape is somewhat unusual because of the highly set spout, made by the workmaster in the form of an eagle's head. An object with a similarly extraordinary interpretation is kept in the Collection of the Moscow Kremlin Museums.
Another exhibit worth noting is a silver beaker of the mid-18th century - a rarity in the antiques market. In the course of the 18th century, silver beakers served not only as drinking vessels but also as granted and awarded decorative works of art.
The beaker in question is unique, not only on the merit of its fine ornament, but also on that of its conventional portrait images. Having a cup, a glass or a beaker engraved with «big- wigs» was fashionable at that time. We can see that this beaker is decorated with "bigwigs", since none of the depicted characters are wearing the imperial crown or an ermine cloak, and in fact the men's cloaks resemble those of Old Russian princes.
Works by silversmiths, similar in workmanship and originality to the items in this particular collection can only be found in large public collections: the Moscow Kremlin Museums, the State Historical Museum of Moscow or the State Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg. This particular collection is the first private collection to bear direct relation to Russian tsars and their circles. Furthermore, all the exhibits are evidence of the Russian masters' outstanding craftsmanship in a full range of silversmith techniques. Experts unanimously agree that this collection is of undoubtedly high artistic and historical value, worthy of the best museums. The exhibition of this collection at the Gelos' is an indubitably great event not only for antiquaries and collectors, but also for anyone who values Russian national culture.
Silver, chasing, engraving, casting, gilding. 11 by 28.5 by 16.5 cm
Silver, ivory, chasing, casting, gilding. 13 by 20.5 by 13 cm
Silver, chasing, gilding. 41.2 by 57.5 cm
Silver, chasing, gilding. h 32 cm