A magnificent and exceptionally rare Russian gilded silver and shaded champlevé enamel tea caddy, Ivan Khlebnikov, Moscow, 1899-1908. In the 17th century style, the six chased lobes of the body decorated with vertical bands of brightly colored flowers and foliage in intense shades of lapis blue, peach, magenta, snow white, green, and yellow, the double-domed lid similarly decorated with floral designs and paisley motifs between stylized pineapples, all reserved against a matte gilt ground, the shaped handle with grotesque mask. Dimensions: 7″ H x 4 1/8″ D (17.8 x 10.5 cm).
The intense colors of the shaded enamel flowers on this magnificent tea caddy are clearly influenced by the very rare shaded enamel work on gold produced by the masters of the Moscow Kremlin Workshops in the 17th century. Inspired by imported European floral engravings as well as the bright tones of jeweled diplomatic gifts from the Persian and Ottoman courts, they developed a unique style of enamel ornament for both secular and ecclesiastical items commissioned by the Tsars. While Khlebnikov was working in silver, the firm’s masters made sure to gild the vessel to a great depth to bring out the same degree of contrast. The shape of the vessel is reminiscent of late 17th-century silver tea caddies made in England, Germany, and the Baltics. There were numerous examples of similar items in the collections of the Kremlin Armory and the treasuries of the Kremlin churches and monasteries. The firm’s artisans made repairs to the historic coverings on the icons of the Kremlin churches and were undoubtedly familiar with the marvelous range of historic wares kept behind its walls. In an age thirsting for connection to relics of Russia’s past, this extraordinary vessel seemingly combining elements from various items in the Kremlin treasuries represented a direct link between the artistic heights of the 17th and 19th centuries.
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