A Russian Imperial porcelain Easter egg with a miniature of the Apostle Paul, Imperial Porcelain Factory, St. Petersburg, end of the 1850s to 1860s. The Apostle Paul shown with a fine halo and in a red cloak, depicted against a dark sky through which light is beginning to break, the apostle saint looking up toward the heavens, holding his bound Gospel in one hand and a sword in the other, the miniature signed at lower right with Cyrillic initials V.M. (В.М.) for Imperial Porcelain Factory painter Vasilii Nikolaevich Midin), the miniature within a gilt border of scrolls and lattice work, the back of the egg with a finely engraved ciselé radiating star in an acanthus leaf border, the number 34 incised in the paste next to the lower aperture. Height 4 3/8 in. (11 cm).
The Imperial Porcelain Factory produced a range of different eggs for members of the Imperial family to give as gifts at Easter. The most labor intensive and expensive were those with figurative miniatures with scenes of church festivals or images of saints, often copied from Old Master paintings in the Imperial collections or more recent paintings by prominent contemporary painters such as Timothy Neff. The eggs were extremely costly and the factory usually produced no more than 40 or 50 each year. Another Imperial porcelain Easter egg painted copied from the same canvas serving as the source for this egg is reproduced in Tamara Kudriavtseva and Harold Whitbeck, Russian Imperial Porcelain Easter Eggs. Русские императорские фарфоровые пасхальные яйцa (London: Merrell, 2001), no. 142, p. 180. On Easter eggs with images of saints from this period, see idem, pp. 20-21, 98-127.
Vasilii Nikolaevich Midin was born into a family whose members had long worked at the Imperial Porcelain Factory as painters. He was trained at the factory’s school beginning in 1845 and studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg from 1852 to 1857, earning the status of Free Artist (Svobodnyi khudoznik). Midin was named a Master of the painting workshop in 1864 and is known to have worked at the factory during the 1880s. He was responsible for painting the scene after an Old Master on a pair of vases that sold at Christie’s London in November 2010 for almost a million pounds as well as numerous military plates and Easter eggs. Another Imperial porcelain Easter egg with a miniature of St. Paul after Neff by Midin is reproduced in idem, no. 104, p. 138.
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