Lot 458
  • 458

A Wedding Gift to Their Imperial Majesties: A Rare and Important Imperial Silver-Gilt and Enamel Triptych Icon of the Feodorovskaya Mother of God, Savelev Brothers, Kostroma, 1894

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • silver, enamel, wood, velvet, oil, tempera
  • height 33.7cm, 13 1/4 in.
rectangular with onion dome upper section, the front doors of two panels both centred with a raised polychrome cloisonné enamel rosette, the grounds of opaque turquoise enamel with scrolling cloison tendrils, the convex borders of gilt scrolls on blue champlevé enamelled grounds, the upper section centred with a blue enamel roundel applied with a chased Imperial eagle, the individual civic arms of shaded enamel plaques, Celtic-form cross finial clasp, the apron of gilt palmettes on translucent blue and red grounds, on four pad feet, two issuing from the banded side columnar hinges with foliate finials, the doors opening to reveal the central icon of the Feodorovskaya Mother of God, the faces, hands and legs of the Mother and Child enamelled en plein, their chased robes, halos and crowns painted with vari-coloured enamels to simulate jewels, the scroll-chased border applied at the corners with medallions of four Apostles, within an aedicule of double columns enamelled with diaper pattern on tall sectioned pedestals of shaded cloisonné enamel flowers and leaf scrolls on stippled grounds, the chevron base and palmette upper frame on blue grounds, the central upper section applied with an icon of the Mandylion, Christ's face enamelled en plein, within a raised columnar frame, the ground of scrolling foliage, the border of raised rosettes within cusps, the interior of the left door enamelled with an image of Saint Alexandra, the right with Saint Nicholas, both finely painted standing on fleuron tile floors within raised champlevé and cloisonné enamel frames, the upper side sections both applied with a raised roundel enamelled with a stylised fleur-de-lys, the reverse with the engraved and part-enamelled civic arms of Kostroma, within a ribbon-tied oak wreath below an Imperial crown, above a raised inscription in Russian: 'To His Imperial Highness the faithful Emperor Nikolai Alexandrovich and to his wife the faithful Empress Alexandra Feodorovna/ A devout offering from the Kostroma state/ The year 1894, November 14', struck Br. Savelev of Kostroma in Cyrillic beneath the firm's exhibition medals, 84 standard, in a fitted plush-lined wood case, the reverse with partial paper label for Hammer Galleries, New York, and the remains of another label, presumably an exhibition label, dated _ 31, 1937


Given by the government of the city of Kostroma to Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra as a wedding gift in 1894 Presumably purchased by Armand Hammer from the Soviet authorities in the 1920s

With Hammer Galleries, New York

Purchased from the above by the parents of the present owners


Excellent condition overall, with some areas of scratches to the raised inscription at the back and some light scratches overall to the silver and enamel surface consistent with age. There is a small loss to the silver double-headed eagle on the cover: the ribbon above the left-side head of the eagle is lacking. The box later.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The wedding of the Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich and Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine was originally planned for April 1895, following their engagement at Coburg in April 1894, and was to include a week of public celebrations in St Petersburg, with all of the pomp attaching to a State occasion.  The death of Emperor Alexander III at Livadia on 20 October (O.S.) 1894 meant a change in both the date and the nature of the ceremony.  Thrust onto the throne at the age of just twenty-six and aware that he was ill-prepared, the new Emperor Nicholas II insisted on being married as soon as possible; his fiancée was the only person who gave him confidence, and he yearned for the closeness that marriage would afford them.  His first wish was to marry at Livadia before his father’s funeral, ‘while Papa is still under this roof’.  His mother was amenable to the idea, but his influential uncles insisted that the wedding of an Emperor was too important an event for the nation and that it must happen in St Petersburg; their view prevailed. Nicholas and Alexandra were married on 14 November (O.S.), a week after Alexander III’s funeral, the date chosen because it was the Dowager Empress’ birthday, which meat that Court mourning could be relaxed.  Maria Feodorovna helped dress Alexandra for the ceremony, and together they drove to the Winter Palace and proceeded to the chapel, where the Emperor waited in his Hussar uniform.  They each held a lighted candle as they became husband and wife, the precise moment depicted in Tuxen’s well-known painting (illustrated).  Alix wrote to her sister ‘One day in deepest mourning lamenting a beloved one, the next in smartest clothes being married.  There cannot be a greater contrast, but it drew us more together, if possible…. Such was my entry into Russia’.      

Wedding gifts were sent from throughout the Empire and abroad, many from municipal governments.  The more bespoke and elaborate of these would have been put into production as soon as the engagement was announced.  Moving the wedding forward by five months necessitated a scramble for craftsmen in manufacturing centres across Russia to finish their work.  It is unknown when the present lot reached St Petersburg, but it would not have been completed in time for the wedding.  Officials in Kostroma may have felt a special pressure to give an incredible gift, as the city considered itself the birthplace of the Romanov dynasty.  Michael Romanov was there when he was elected Tsar in 1613.  When he left for Moscow to be crowned, he took with him a copy of the Feodorovskaya Icon of the Mother of God, a gift from his mother.  Thus the icon became the patron icon of the family, and Kostroma officials chose it as the subject of their gift. 

Another wedding icon was given to the Imperial couple by the bride’s sister, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, a triptych of Our Lady of Kazan flanked by Saints Nicholas and Alexandra, which she purchased from Fabergé, now in the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg (illustrated, V. Voronchenko, ed., Fabergé: Treasures of Imperial Russia, Fabergé Museum, St Petersburg, New York, 2017, p. 276-277).

The Savelev firm of silversmiths was founded in Kostroma by Vasili Savelev in 1849.  He was later joined by his son Alexander, and they are recorded as working together until 1893, when the elder silversmith either died or retired.  Alexander apparently then brought his brother into the business, which became Savelev Brothers, though the brother’s identity is not recorded.  The brother may not have been a silversmith himself, as there is no record of him having registered a hallmark.  Throughout its existence, the firm specialised in the manufacture of icon oklads and was therefore a natural choice for commissioning by the city leaders of the wedding icon for the new Emperor and his bride.  The firm was never very large, and Savelev works remain rare on the international market.  A Savelev icon sold, Sotheby’s New York, 16-17 April 2007, lot 232; another was offered, Wannenes Genoa, 10-11 November 2014, lot 357.  The Postnikova-Losseva entry for the firm does not mention any works in enamel; as the workshop was not extensive, it is unlikely they had in-house enamellers and therefore probably outsourced the extensive and very accomplished enamel work on the present icon.