A pair of Russian glass and hardstone panels attributed to the Ust-Ruditsa Lomonosov glass workshops, Russia circa 1765-1770
- glass and hardstone panel
- Panel A: 46.2cm. high, 33.5cm. wide; 18¼in., 13in; Panel B: 46.2cm. high, 34cm. wide; 18¼in, 13¼in.
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Imperatorskiy Steklianniy Zavod, 1777-1917 K225-letiiou so dnia osnovannia (Imperial Glass Factory. 1777-1917. 225th Foundation Day Anniversary) - Exhibition Catalogue, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2004, Slavia, St Petersburg, 2004.
(In Russian and English).
Nina Asharina, Tamara Malinina, Liudmila Kazakova, Russian Glass of the 17th - 20th centuries The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, 2009.
Tamara A. Malinina, Imperatorskiy Steklianniy Zavod - XVIII Natchalo XX Veka (Imperial Glass Factory 18th - early 20th centuries), The State Hermitage Publishers, St Petersburg, 2009 (in Russian).
M.V Lomonossov i Elizavetinskoe vremia (Mikhail Lomonossov and the time of Elizabeth Ist) - Exhibition catalogue St Petersburg, the State Hermitage publishers, 2011 (in Russian).
Emmanuel Ducamp, (Ed.), The Summer Palaces of the Romanovs - Treasures from Tsarskoye Selo, Thames and Hudson, London, 2012.
Catherine la Grande, un art pour l'Empire, Chefs-d'œuvre du musée de l'Ermitage de Saint-Pétersbourg, catalogue d'exposition, musée des Beaux-arts de l'Ontario, 2005, musée des Beaux-arts Montréal, 2006, p. 127.
The art of coloured glass in Russia and Mikhail Lomonosov’s workshops in Ust-Ruditsa
Text by Emmanuel Ducamp
The activity of the Russian polymath Mikhail Lomonosov, his research on coloured glass and the creations by his workshops in Ust-Ruditsa are now better known thanks to the research done by Russian specialists, especially the synthesis made by L. Tarasova in the catalogue of the exhibition “Mikhail Lomonosov and the time of Elisabeth I” which took place in the Hermitage Museum in 2011.
It seems that Lomonov’s interest in the technique of working with glass as a decorative material started from around 1740 and into the1750’s, when two glass mosaic paintings from the Vatican workshops arrived in St-Petersburg. One of these mosaic paintings was a portrait of Empress Elisabeth I made by Alessandro Cocchi, the official mosaicist of Pope Benoit XI, who sent it to the Empress as a present. Lomonosov contacted the Vice Chancellor, Count Vorontsov, and praised the advantages of this technique and the possibility of expanding its use in the decoration of interiors, especially for public buildings. Undoubtedly, he wanted to revive this ancient Russian art of mosaics, with the mosaic decorations in the Churches of Kiev and Novgorod dating from the 11th and 12th centuries being two famous examples.
It is purported that up until 1752, Lomonosov undertook several experiments and around 4,000 attempts in the laboratory of chemistry at the Academy of Sciences. He wanted to reclaim the process of making coloured glass again. He finally managed to create an impressive palette of 112 different colours, by repute even larger than the palette of the Vatican. In 1752, he obtained the Russian monopoly for this process, confirmed by the Russian Senate on 14th December 1752 and 15th March, 1753, which made it possible to create a factory in Ust-Ruditsa, West of St-Petersburg.
The first pieces in coloured glass were made by the factory in 1754. The workshops employed more than 200 workers in three main buildings, which housed workshops for the preparation of the mélanges and the pâte de verre, several ovens and a water-mill used to activate the machines in order to cut and polish glass. The opaque and coloured glass used for these pieces was called smalt, made in different shapes, depending on the work of art and where it would be used. It could be shaped as pearls which were then sewn onto canvas, half-spheres or half-ovals applied to glass or stone, or various geometrically shaped pieces forming the base material for mosaics.
Mosaics were laid over a metal ground (in general over copper). Small pieces of glass were applied with fish glue onto a ground made of powdered alabaster, in order to improve the adhesion. Lomonosov developed the mosaic process himself as well as the proportion of chemicals composing each colour of the palette. For example, glass became green when copper was added, turquoise or black, depending on the quantity of added iron, pale red with mercury, while ruby coloured red was created with gold. In the archives, a distinction is made between masters in mosaics, for instance M. Vassiliev, E. Melnikov, Ya. Chalaourov or I. Petrov, and those known as “smaltistes” masters, like I. Zielkh, F. Rogojine or M. Kyrillov. The remarkable work of Lomonosov in this field was even mentioned in the Nouvelles de Florence, in 1764.
The chef d'oeuvre of the works created at Ust-Ruditsa is undoubtedly the mosaic depicting Peter the Great, victorious over the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava in 1709. It is now located on the main staircase at the Academy of Sciences in St-Petersburg. Originally, it was made in order to decorate a commemorative mausoleum in the Imperial Necropole in the Peter and Paul cathedral, where Peter the Great was laid to rest, located in the fortress of the same name and considered as the starting point for the foundation of the city.
Lomonosov won the competition organized by the Senate in 1758 and wanted to introduce no less than seventeen coloured glass mosaics in the spectacular mausoleum, depicting episodes in the life of the Tzar, scenes from Scripture and the life of the apostles Peter and Paul. Because of the death in 1761 of Elisabeth I, the daughter of Peter the Great, the project could not be completed. However, some mosaics remain, such as the Battle of Poltava which was made between 1761 and 1765.
Other mosaic pieces from Lomonosov’s workshops, which are now preserved in either the Hermitage Museum or in the Russian Museum, are mainly portraits (Elisabeth I, Peter III, Catherine the Great, Vice Chancellor Vorontsov, Count Chouvalov, Count Orlov) or representations of the Virgin or of Saints.
Empress Catherine II reigned from 1762 and decided to build the … Private Dacha of Her Majesty …in Oranienbaum, now known as the ‘Chinese palace’ designed by the architect Antonio Rinaldi. The Italian architect asked Lomonosov’s workshop to carry out the decoration of one of the most extraordinary Russian creations of the 18th century: the Glass Cabinet of the Chinese Palace. Not only is the panelling of this Cabinet (which still exists) made of millions of glass pearls which are sewn onto fabric backing, covering the whole surface of the wall, but there was also a pavement in smalt glass mosaic which did not survive because of its fragility and two remarkable tables in smalt glass mosaic with gilt or silver bronze mounts, realized between 1765 and 1775 (both tables still in existence). One of the table tops represents a trompe-l’œil of a desk depicted with closed and open books (one of them showing an atlas), a compass, a world map and some parchments, while the other includes an allegoric landscape – surrounded by geometric patterns - alluding to the victory of Russia against Turkey in 1770 (figs. 1 and 2). Apart from the main material, the most interesting detail for us is the use of four groups of glass or pietre dure fruits applied in the middle of each side of the frieze of one of the two tables. Whilst the glass used in order to create these came from Lomonosov’s workshops, the mosaic technique applied to the tables is more precise than that used for the portraits created by the Lomonossov workshops; it is attributed to the master I. Martino who worked at that time at the Imperial Stone-cutting manufactory in Peterhof (fig. 3).
Founded in the early 1720’s under the reign of Peter the Great, the Peterhof factory was one of three Imperial factories created in the eighteenth century in order to put to good use the wealth of Russian minerals in the Imperial residences. It produced works of art in Russian coloured stones coming from the Ural Mountains or the Altai Mountains in Siberia. It is famous for many works made with different types of jasper and in particular Russian stones, such as amazonite, malachite, nephrite, labradorite, or Baikal lapis-lazuli.
Examples of the works produced at the Peterhof Imperial factory are particularly interesting for us with two tables made in pietre dure and coloured glass, created for Catherine the Great in Tsarskoie Selo in the 1770’s, with their tops in Baikal lapis-lazuli (displayed today in the Arabesque Hall in the Catherine Palace). Not only do they show the use of both pietre dure and smalt glass, but they also boast the same elements as those used in our panels (fig. 4). For example, small panels with a frame made of half-pearls which are similar to those used in the frames of panels A & B, and groups of fruits in pietre dure or in smalt glass which are similar to those in panel A, are visible on the frieze of these two tables (fig. 5). Moreover, the flat pilasters emulating the frieze of the Tsarskoie Selo’s tables are in a coloured glass which imitates lapis-lazuli, as well as the profile and the upper part of the stand pedestal surmounted by a vase of panel B. This same glass, imitating lapis-lazuli, can be found on the Oranienbaum glass table top with a geometric drawing and also in the frameworks of profile portraits of Peter the Great and Catherine I displayed in the central Hall of the Chinese palace of Oranienbaum.
On panel B, the smalt glass platform imitating jasper is similar to the marbled glass used in the other Oranienbaum table. Moreover, on that same panel B, the shell underneath the platform (fig. 6) reproduces nearly exactly that which is in the lower part of one of the glass beads panels in the Glass Cabinet of the Chinese palace, and it is similarly surrounded by coral branches in the form of a fan (fig. 7).
As to the pietre dure, the lower part of the pedestal in panel B is made of pink agate, like all frames on the friezes of the Tsarskoie Selo’s tables and some of the fruits in panel A. On their stretcher (fig. 8), petals of flowers and leaves done in nephrite (another typical Russian stone) are similar to those used on panel A. Finally, pieces of natural malachite visible on the sides of the platform in panel B, or representing leaves and the body of a flying bird in the left upper part of that same panel, would serve to confirm the Russian origin of these works of art.
All these elements put together make it possible to assume that panels A & B were made in Lomonosov’s workshops in Ust-Ruditsa, with the potential participation of the Peterhof Stone-cutting manufactory, probably in the late 1760’s or early 1770’s when the workshops were moved from Ust-Ruditsa to be placed under the authority of the Chancery in charge of buildings, after Lomonosov had died in 1765.
They were certainly made for a decorative purpose, as an objet de vertu for a prestigious and refined interior. Another question would be their meaning. For panel A, could it be an evocation of the vegetable kingdom depicting an abundance of fruit and vegetables? For panel B, could it in turn be an evocation of the animal kingdom which depicts animals like a peacock, a lamb, a dog, a duck, a tortoise, birds and a monkey. Questions which invite further research.
It is known that Catherine the Great particularly appreciated works in glass. Her bedchamber in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoie Selo, designed by the British architect Charles Cameron, was entirely lined with white opaline glass panels and translucent purple glass bands and columns. It seems they had been made at the Imperial Crystal Manufactory in St-Petersburg which had already sent two masters – Ivan Konerov and Piotr Drujinin – to study the techniques for manufacturing coloured glass at the workshops of Lomonosov as early as the 1750’s. The boudoir of the Tsarina, nicknamed “Tabakierka” (or Snuffbox ) because of its small size, was also covered with white opaline glass panels and translucent blue glass. In this room, there were two white opaline crystal and blue glass stools (now lost) and one accompanying table (still preserved in Tsarskoie Selo). The three items were decorated with gilt-bronze mounts to echo the walls of the room. They are thought to have been made by Georg König, who practiced the art of stained wax and glass in a particular workshop located in the Small Hermitage by the Winter Palace, St-Petersburg. König was German and had arrived in St-Petersburg in the mid 1770’s. He was accepted into the Foreign Masters’ Guild in 1777. Together with another famous master active in this workshop, Karl Leberecht, König is known to have helped make glass cameo casts for Catherine the Great.
In 1779, König created a coloured glass medallion which is now preserved in the Hermitage Museum, (fig. 9). It is very similar to panel A when comparing the material and type of motifs. A quantity of coloured glass fruits which imitates opaque and translucent pietre dure or semiprecious stones is reproduced on the ground of the glass medallion itself, simulating agate. There are other similarities: a basket in cane work, laden with fruit, amethyst or ruby-coloured grapes and multi-coloured birds. On the upper part of the medallion the portrait in profile of Catherine II is shown on the simulated agate background, echoing the engraved cameos that she loved. Her head is crowned with laurel, her presence seemingly emphasising her patronage and taste for the art of Russian coloured glass.
Panels A and B and the combination they show of both techniques of pietre dure and smalt glass are a rare testimony to the various Russian craftsmanships, particularly successful during the second half of the eighteenth century. They do credit to the work of the Russian sovereigns, who tried to promote Russia and raise it to the same level and status as its European neighbours. Nothing was too beautiful enough to decorate their palaces. Legend has it that the blue paint used for the façades of Catherine's favourite residence, the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoie Selo, was obtained by mixing the oil paint with ground turquoise glass, used as a pigment. Since the latter was chemically stable, as it had been previously fired, the paint would not fade in sun light. In the nineteenth century, the art of coloured glass found its crowning moment in St-Petersburg, with the mosaics made by the workshop of the Imperial Academy of Arts, first for Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, and then for the Church of the Saviour of the Spilt Blood, with its monumental decoration nearly entirely made in smalt glass.