A Russian porcelain plate from the Raphael Service, Imperial Porcelain Factory, 1897. Centered with a grisaille scene of cupid distracting Venus from her spinning against a Chinese red ground within a shaped cartouche, the outer border of the cavetto with foliate trophies and grotesques against a cream ground, the outer band a celadon ground against which are circular reserves with grisaille views of naughty cupids, between these are grisaille views of sea gods and mythical beasts against a grey ground within shaped gilt borders with mastic ornament, the underside with gilt Slavonic cipher of Nicholas II dated 1897. Diameter: 9 1/2 in. (24 cm).
Emperor Alexander III specially commissioned the Raphael Service in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Italian painter Raphael Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520) in 1883. Intended for use in Great Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, the Raphael service was perhaps the most important service produced at the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The ornament is derived from motifs in the Hermitage’s Raphael Loggia, which had been copied for Catherine II after frescoes by Raphael and his students in the loggias of the Vatican. The service’s primary decoration alternates panels with human and animal figures interwoven with scrolls and foliage and medallions with antique figures en grisaille set against gray, celadon, iron red, or light blue backgrounds. The project was so complex that Leonard Leonardovich Schaufelberger (1839-1894), head of the factory’s painting workshop, oversaw the designs, and Emperor Alexander III personally approved most of them. Pieces from it are uniquely marked with large, stenciled ciphers of the ruling monarch in tooled gold Slavonic script. The ornately painted service was completed in 1903 after twenty years’ work and included only fifty place settings. The following year, the service was moved to the Anichkov Palace in St. Petersburg for use by the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. On the service and its history, see T.V. Petrova’s note in Pod tsarskim venzelem, St. Petersburg, 2007, pp. 200-201.
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