Possibly Russian. First Quarter Of The Nineteenth Century.


Of bronze, gilt bronze, and colored glass. Comprising two pitchers, one teapot, one coffee pot, a heating stand, an open bowl, a covered bowl, a colored glass tea caddy, a small tray and a large tray. All pieces, except the globular glass caddy, have sculpturally cast handles and spouts in the form of griffins with whimsical expressions. All display finely cast pierced and gilded bands. Gilding throughout the set is original, small isolated areas of localized re-gilding where worn.

A Copenhagen Private Collection

In its early introduction to Europe, “tea drinking was a socially prominent activity reserved for the upper class, and it required teawares that reflected this fashion and the position one held in society.”1 This remarkable tea and coffee service is distinguished not only by its unusual design, but also by its mode of manufacture. Each of the body pieces is made using the technique of the silversmith, whereby they were beaten over wooden formers, rather than cast. To this end, numerous tiny hammer marks can be detected on the gilded interiors. Gold is a noble metal, resistant to oxidation and corrosion by air and moisture, and its high purity renders the metal odorless and tasteless, providing a practical yet luxurious material for the linings of these vessels.

The spouts and handles take the form of griffin heads, with pointed ears and curved tongues issuing from their open beaks, a style of representation used in ancient Greece for the decoration of various vessels. A related example of one such bronze griffin head, dating from the seventh century BC, is in the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (figure 1). This motif, as well as the use of bronze and gilding in teawares, can also be found in the Middle and Far East, in places such as Tibet and Asia Minor, and would have become an aesthetic influence as the Russian Empire expanded into Central Asia. The present interpretation of the griffins is characterized by their endearingly whimsical expressions.

A further strong indicator of the probable Russian origin of this set lies in the globular glass tea caddy, whose body is of an amber color, while the lid is dark purple. Amber was prized by the Russian nobility; an entire room in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo was devoted to the material, and the royal collection contained numerous chests and other decorative objects in amber as well. Amber colored glass was also particularly favored by Russian glassworks. The great cut glass table, today in the Corning Museum of Glass, made by the Russian Imperial Glassworks, probably as a present from Tsar Alexander I to his mother or sister, has a flared central stem in this color. The purple color of the tea caddy lid can be found, probably exclusively, as the glass bowl section on a number of Russian gilt-bronze chandeliers.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.