Russia, Tula Manufacture, late 18th - early 19th century
Steel, chased and gilt bronze, enhanced with brass and pewter application
- Count Charles-André Walewski Collection
This rectangular steel casket is decorated in gilt bronze, brass and pewter, characteristic of the Tula Manufacture. On the lid, a floral basket decorates the central part in a slight projection of an octagonal frame. On either side of the frame, two gilt bronze vase patterns from which spring bouquets of flowers are joined by garlands and crowns of roses. Each corner of the lid is delimited by protruding foliage edging, the pattern of which is found on each side of the casket. They are surmounted by alternating garlands of festooned flowers held in place by hooks.
The Tula Manufacture
Comparable to the work of a jeweller, this casket is a refined example of the objects created in the 18th century by the Tula Manufacture. In the south of Moscow, the city of Tula was able to exploit very early on its geological situation. The iron deposits on which the city is implanted enabled its economic existence and the quick overtake of its role as a producer of weapons of war, hunting, duelling and ceremonials. Established in 1712 under the leadership of Peter the Great (reign from 1682 to 1725), the manufacture reached its peak thanks to the exceptional know-how of its craftsmen and, from the 1740s under the reign of Elizabeth I (reign from 1741 to 1762), extended its production to furniture and artworks when the need for weapons decreased, a consequence of the end of the war against Sweden.
Objects such as candlesticks, caskets and moneyboxes thus came out of the manufacture’s workshops alongside furniture with traditional shapes.
The specificity of Tula’s works lies in the use of different materials on the same object. These polished, sometime blued, steel pieces, of high-quality are encrusted with a multitude of “facet-cut steel diamonds” to which are added relief inlays, chased on the surface. On a single piece, up to six different metals could be combined: steel, copper, brass, tin, bronze and gold. Tula’s objects thus concentrate a high degree of technical mastery and artistic refinement.
The price of the objects coming out of Tula’s Manufacture was proportionate to the complexity of the work and the time spent in their creation, which conducted, at the time, to their qualification as “rarities and preciousness”. Hence, only members of the imperial family and the aristocracy were able to acquire them. Empress Catherine the Great (reign from 1762 to 1796), a convinced lover of the decorative arts and fervent protector of national production, completed her collection with these treasures of modernity that she used to present annually in her palace in Tsarskoye Selo. The craze for Tula pieces continued during the reign of Alexander I (reign from 1801 to 1825), and these pieces, displayed today at the Hermitage Museum, are considered key works of the former Gallery of Treasures of the Winter Palace.
The Tula Manufacture thus embodies the artisanal perfection and the audacity of the Russian identity asserting its place in 18th century Europe. The know-how of locksmith’s masters contributed to the influence of the nation of the Tsars across the old continent, in particular with diplomatic gifts. The aversion of Paul I for his mother, making him hate everything she appreciated, the manufacture gradually lost his support in the last years of the 18th century but, it was above all the Napoleonic wars and the change in taste that got the better of this exceptional production in the first years of the 19th century.
Antoine Chenevière, Splendeur du mobilier russe, 1780-1840, Paris, Flammarion, 1988, p. 248.
Alexandra Chouvalov, Alexis Kugel, Antoine Nivière, Trésors des Tzars, la Russie et l’Europe de Pierre Le Grand à Nicolas Ier, Paris, Kugel, 1998.
Emmanuel Ducamp (dir.), Pavlovsk, Le palais et le parc, Paris, Alain de Gourcuff, 1993, p. 92.
Alain Renner, Mobilier de métal : de l’Ancien Régime à la Restauration, Saint-Remy-en-l'Eau, Monelle Hayot, 2009.