(click on photos to enlarge image)
A GIANT ENAMEL SALT THRONE FROM RUSSIA
The enamelling technique rose to its peak in Russia in the
late 1800s. It was applied to various pieces of art, important
gifts and jewellery. It may seem a little surprising and
contradictory that this extraordinarily complicated technique
was applied to traditional Russian utility goods for everyday
use, such a spoons, kovsh, charka and other items for the
ordinary household originating from rural Russia. This is
explained by the emphasis on genuine national heritage in the
design of highly valuable pieces for decoration and not for use.
This was also the case for enamelled salt cellars and the most
prominent examples of those, salt chairs or salt thrones. The
appearance of these objects is not so often traced back to its
Interpreting this model, we know that silversmiths in the big
cities transformed the shape of the salt chair to resemble an
armchair, while staying true to the Old Russian Style in the
design of the ornaments. And when applying polychrome enamel
technique in transforming a functional household item to a piece
of art, it became more fanciful in its presentation. The
enamelling technique used was mostly cloisonné (enamel within a
silver frame on solid silver tin) or, more seldom, champlevé
(thin, flat enamelling on a silver surface). Pure silver salt
chairs are relatively more frequent compared to enamelled ones
and the latter seldom exceed the height of 8 cm.
The prototype, or
basic shape of a salt chair, square and boxed,
carved in wood, 19th century, most common in
central Russia. All significant details are
there, the expressed back, the bend between the
seat and the back, and the fine ornaments. A
repeated ornament is the circle (half and
quarter with spokes, a sun, star or a wheel).
The lid above the seat is missing, it is not a
necessity, and this was added later. Height 13
cm, width and depth 10.2 cm (sketch after Alison
The demand for enamelled pieces of applied art, compared to
similar pure silver art, came fairly late in Tsarist Russia,
where enamelled pieces became more frequent in early 20th century, when
enamelled tobacco cases, napkin rings, coffee-cups, teaspoons
etc appear, most of them stamped in the period of 1908-1917.
Also corpus art: bowls, kovsh, salt cellars, are mostly from
One motive that appears in the salt throne representation is the
old rural izba house with raised gable with wheels, ornaments of
saw-tooth, finials with symbolic animals (birds, rooster or
horses) protecting the house and its inhabitants.
The silver salt throne we will examine now is uncommon from at
least four aspects, its unusually big size (close to the wooden
one), its strong reference to the original squareness, not
adapting the common wide-angle shape, the symbolic ornaments
and, which is most rare, the use of two enamelling techniques.
Russian rural izba house here artistically
represented in polychrome cloisonné enamelling
technique on a silver tea caddy by Gratchev
workshop, workmaster Johan Olsonius, St
Petersburg 1880 (photo Uppsala Auktionskammare).
Further, this piece is a forerunner and predecessor to what
later comes of enamelled salt thrones, it is as early as 1887.
The ornaments are fascinating, they ingeniously combine
to most of the symbolism applied to traditional salt
chairs with a polychrome presentation. The back shows a frame:
the gable of the old Russian wooden house, izba, and the
guarding birds, here heraldic roosters with crowned heads. The
additional ornaments are floral windings and loops. The
cartouche in the middle is made in plique-a-jour technique.
throne by master P.R. (in Latin transcription)
for Pyotr Rykovsky , stamped in Moscow 1887,
assaymaster A. Romanov. 88 zolotniki silver
content (916/000) and two enamelling techniques:
the general surface cloisonné, but the cartoche
at the back, and some minor additional features,
is made in plique-a-jour (full translucent in
small frames). The salt chair has an impressive
size, heigth 12 cm, width 9 cm, depth 5.3 cm,
weight 168 grams
All four sides of the strong box-shaped throne are decorated
with polychrome cloisonné in floral pattern ornaments, and the
chair feet are Old Russian Style. The lid of the seat shows
similar ornaments with a cartouche in the middle, not engraved.
The translucent cartouche on the seat back is absolutely unique
for a salt throne, and when seen in daylight it is most
Detail of the lid
of the seat, floral ornaments in cloisonné
Enamelled salt thrones of this size and technique are rare. Some
very few have become known by the public, in exhibitions and
auctions. One later, 1890, but important, is made by the
imperial jeweller and silversmith Pavel Ovchinnikov.
appearance of the cartouche of the seat back,
with some added small plique-a-jour pieces below
and integrated in the cloisonné pattern.
Surprisingly, lately one enamelled salt throne by the same
silversmith P.R. appeared, made the same year 1887. The size and
style are the same, square boxed, izba gable, birds and rich
ornamented seat back. Also, enamelling techniques, cloisonné,
and plique-a-jour in the cartouche, have been used.
Who was this silversmith Pyotr Rykovsky? He is not commonly represented
among collectors or in auctions, his workshop was probably small.
He is known for plique-a-jour works, among those a valuable
snuff-box from 1890 and a full translucent plique-a-jour cigarette case;
he is registered but fairly unknown. But by
his interpretation of the salt chair tradition in Russian
silversmith’s production, he is undoubtedly important.
A similar salt
throne by silversmith P.R. (Pyotr Rykovsky), Moscow 1887, 88
zoloniki silver standard, enamelled with
cloisonné and plique-a-jour, height 14 cm (photo
This salt throne is a presentation gift of importance, it has
not been used for salt ceremony purposes, it has been treasured
as a prominent “objet de vértu”. It reflects the puristic
tradition of Russian nationalism, and although it is very
traditional in shape and symbolics, the intricate enamelling and
the expressive size add a significant artistic touch.
Willand Ringborg © - 2007 -