A covered Russian porcelain ice cup from the service for the Order of St George, Gardner, 1777-1778. The cup’s form based on those of the Berlin Service (given to Catherine II by Frederick the Great in 1772), the bowl molded with two bands of laurel leaves on a gilt scale-patterned ground, the handles formed with berry and foliage terminals, the upper border of the cup with the black and orange moiré silk ribbon centered with the order’s badge, the cover similarly decorated with a row of laurel leaves and a flattened surface on which is seated an attentive squirrel with lush tail nibbling on a nut. The underside with blue factory mark and a line and circle impressed in paste. Height 4 1/2″. (11.4 cm)
Catherine II commissioned the Francis Gardner Porcelain Factory to produce the services for the exclusive use of the cavaliers of Russia’s earliest Orders honoring those who had shown special service to the Emperor or Empress. Their design was clearly inspired by similar sets created at European factories as gifts to the Russian court, particularly the so-called Berlin Service Catherine had received from her rival Frederick II of Prussia in 1772. Three services were comissioned in 1777: one for the cavaliers of the Order of St George, a second for the members of the Order of St Andrew First Called, and a third for members of the Order and St Alexander Nevsky. The decorations for the services were designed by academician Gavriil Kozlov, who had earlier designed the Orlov service, and would have included complex allegorical elements like the squirrel, who symbolized the determination that the Order’s members had shown throughout their lives. The service for the Knights of the Order of St. George was completed first and included vessels for serving every kind of dessert, including two types of cup for ice cream or custard with the charming figures of a squirrel and a tiny rose. Its earliest use was at the celebration of the Order’s feast day on November 26, 1778 and it continued to be used yearly thereafter. Catherine II had founded this order recognizing military feats in 1769 and the first recipients included many outstanding military leaders who had distinguished themselves in the Russo-Turkish Wars of 1768-1774 such as Field Marshall Petr Rumiantsev (1725-1796), Count Alexei Orlov (1737-1808), General Petr Panin (1721-1789), Prince Vasilii Dolgorukov (1722-1782), and Count Grigory Potemkin (1739-1791). Considering the role the elite military units had played in determining who sat on the Russian throne, Catherine was wise to honor her military commanders first. On this service, see Nataliia Sipovskaia, “Ordenskie servizy,” Pinakoteka No. 5 (1998), pp. 16-31; Anne Odom and Liana Paredes Arend, A Taste for Splendor: Russian Imperial and European Treasures from the Hillwood Museum (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 1998), pp. 154-156; and, Shedevry russkogo farfora XVIII veka iz sobraniia galerei “Popov i Ko.,” Moscow, 2009, pp. 226, 228-230.
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