An extremely rare Russian porcelain plate from the Orlov Service, Imperial Porcelain Factory, circa 1763-1770. Circular with shaped border, the cavetto decorated with interlaced and crowned gilt Cyrillic monogram GGO beneath a nine-pointed Count’s coronet and set within a ribbon-tied wreath of laurel and palm branches; the raised border with molded and ciselé gilt inner band with blue pellets and with ciselé silver landscape frieze. The underside with black overglaze double-headed Imperial eagle, No. 1 in ciselé gilt, also with circle with arrow impressed in the paste. Diameter: 9 1/8″ (23.2 cm).
This plate is part of a magnificent porcelain breakfast and toilette service, one of the many extravagant gifts awarded by Empress Catherine II (reigned 1762–1796) to Count Grigorii Orlov (1734–1783), one of the key figures in the palace coup that placed Catherine on the throne. He was also her lover and advisor for over a decade, and she showered him with expensive gifts in thanks for the services he rendered her and the Russian nation. At a time when only the sovereign owned such large, complex porcelain services, this set was a truly extravagant gift, particularly since shortly thereafter she gave him the grandiose silver service designed by Étienne-Maurice Falconet (1716–1791) and executed by the Parisian silversmiths Jacques (1707–1784) and Jacques-Nicolas Roettiers (1736–1788/89?) and the grand Marble Palace in St. Petersburg.
The service was commissioned from the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory in the early years of Catherine’s reign, possibly in 1765 when Orlov was appointed Chief of Ordinance and when Catherine reorganized the factory so that it was capable of producing such a large and complex service with such innovative ornament. In addition to the complex shapes and molding, the service is decorated with gilding and silvering, most of which has now blackened. The service was designed by Gavriil Ignat’evich Kozlov (1738–1791); born a serf, Kozlov went on to become a Professor at the Academy of Arts, Director of the Imperial Tapestry Manufactory and designer of several of the most important porcelain services produced during Catherine’s reign. The service is decorated with the cypher of Count Grigorii Grigorievich Orlov in interlacing gold Cyrillic letters. On the plates, this cypher is enclosed in a wreath that is tied with ribbons at the top and surmounted by a nine-point crown of a Count, the title he was given on the day of Catherine’s coronation in September 1762. It is one of the few services produced during the first period of the factory which bears the Imperial Eagle mark.
It has been suggested that the Empress’s generosity was an attempt to mollify Orlov, who had wanted to marry her and become Emperor. Rumors about a possible marriage had nearly resulted in a coup against Catherine in 1763, so it is more likely that these gifts were in thanks for one of the last great works he accomplished for the nation: the quelling of riots that had erupted after Moscow city government officials mishandled a serious outbreak of the plague late in 1770. A special commission headed by Orlov managed to restore order and maintain quarantine areas without ending all trade and church visitations, two directives that had sparked the ire of Moscow’s citizens. These gifts presumably had something to do with his work in Moscow because the Empress also commissioned public monuments lauding his deeds, including the marble arch designed by Antonio Rinaldi and set on the road leading to Orlov’s estate, Gatchina. Inscribed in gilt letters on the park side of the arch is the motto: “Moscow was saved from misfortune by Orlov.” On the side seen when approaching the park from the Gatchina road is the gilt inscription: “When in 1771 plague and popular disorder visited Moscow, General Master of Ordinance Orlov, at his own request, was commanded to go to Moscow, where he restored order and discipline, provided means of livelihood for orphans, and stopped the fury of the plague by his good institutions.”
On this service, see T. Kudriavtseva, “Orlovskii serviz Imperatorskogo farforovogo zavoda v Sankt-Peterburga,” Soobshcheniia gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha XLIX (1984), pp. 23-26 and Shedevry russkogo farfora XVIII veka iz sobraniia galerei “Popov i Ko.,” Moscow, 2009, pp. 64-69.
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