article # 62



by Willand Ringborg
(click on photos to enlarge image)


The salt throne or salt chair is often associated with its origin in Russian rural life, its historicism and the importance of its ornamental and decorative tradition. The 'izba', the small wooden house, represented an important link to peasant life and romanticism and had a double influence on the shaping of salt chairs.

First and beforehand, the izba house was the idealised place for the deep-rooted salt ceremony, to welcome guests with bread and salt. The izba, a construction is of medieval origin, sublimates the pre-Peter the Great period on a representation of Russian historicism created by the nationalist-romanticist search for the ancient Russian style. It is the image of pure Russia, still untouched by western influence.
Secondly, the convertion of the izba and of house's ornamentation and carving into a squared and box-shaped surface was an excellent way to export Russian heritage inside urbanized and westernized areas.
Two silver salt thrones from Russia, late 19th century
The salt throne idea, although emerging from rural circumstances, spread into the cities and was realized and refined in precious metals by urban silversmiths. The salt throne model became a standard repertoire of clever silversmiths, adopting innumerable and seldom duplicated shapes. Still, the izba representation remained important.

Salt throne  by  Artemi Vasilev Blochin back of the salt throne  by  Artemi Vasilev Blochin
Salt throne by Artemi Vasilev Blochin (AB in Latin transcription), stamped in Kostroma, 1899-1908, assay master A. Solodilkova (-1905). 84 zolotnik silver(875/000), gold gilded in the interior salt container, height 6.4 cm, width 6.2 cm, depth 3.7 cm, weight 35 grams
Back of the salt throne, shaped identically to the front. Interwoven, and almost hidden by the floral ornament, we may see the raising of izba's roof, two wheels and two mystic birds (roosters with wheels in their wings and chase-worked and over-dimensioned tail feathers, probably protecting from un-wished spirits). An imagination of common saw-tooth ornamental and plating, semi-round cuts on the finial (roof-logs)
This salt chair (above) is of standard size, low, pretty and showing an ornamented area as reminiscent of a peacock, fragile, fully pierced. The salt container is hidden under the lid, and the back of salt chairs is often over-dimensioned in so that they are usually referred as 'thrones'.
In our example the ornament is a truly impressive work of intricate pattern. The lid of the salt container reads 'Khleb i Solj' (Bread and Salt) and its frame has wave-like scalloped decoration.
But where is the izba reference?


On the right a typical variety is shown, a more squared box and farthingale shaped.
The piercing is modest and the ornamental richness of flowers and piercing is emphasised by the gilt back frame.
On the topo we may deduct the stylised saw-tooth pattern of the izba finial.
The feet show also a difference; these stair feet are common in the Russian style, while the front frame of the above one shows a bended frame line.
Salt throne in silver, by unknown master, initials ISL and IS (in Latin transcription), Moscow 1887, assay master Victor Savinkov.
Salt throne in silver, by unknown master, initials ISL and IS (in Latin transcription), Moscow 1887, assay master Victor Savinkov. 84 zolotnik silver, gilt back frame on both sides and inside the salt space, height 6.01 cm, width 4.5 cm, depth 3.5 cm, weight 38 grams
Salt throne seat with a small stylized picture
But, where should we look for the much-renowned izba tradition and ornamental importance?
In referring so much to the izba traditions and ornamental importance, where do we see this present?
It is not apparent at first sight, so let us have a closer look (left)
Salt throne seat with a small stylized picture 1.5 x 2 cm of an izba gable, low raising, with over-dimensioned finials and two chimneys. A charming example of the izba representation and presence in the salt ceremony memory

The salt cellars, in tsarist Russia and also thereafter, and particularly salt chairs or salt thrones in this small shaped size, maintain a deep-rooted tradition and a strong folklore resemblance of rural time and rural spirit.

Willand Ringborg - 2006 -