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The Industry of Enamelware in Russia

Posted on April 27, 2020 at 4:00 PM by Allison Sheridan

While most would recognize the name Fabergé, creator of the celebrated bejeweled and enameled eggs, many are unfamiliar with the scope of the decorative arts industry of enamelware in Russia. The University Museums’ permanent collection contains fine examples of enameled objects including boxes, eggs, cases, cups, trays, spoons, lampadas, a poesy holder and more. The three objects in the Creating Global Understanding exhibition, all from Moscow, showcase the high-quality work of three of the most well-known firms and artists beyond the house of Fabergé. 

Vitreous enamel objects begin with a glass, ceramic, or in this case, metal base. To the base shape is fused metal wiring formed into elaborate designs. The wiring creates cells or cloisons that are then filled with powdered glass and fired at over 750 degrees Celsius. The powdered glass melts, fusing onto the substrate, and eventually hardens into a solid surface. The technique was discovered by the ancient Egyptians and used historically in China, Japan, Greece, the Roman Empire, Middle East and India.

Moscow was the epicenter of high-end silversmith and enamel firms. German born Fedor Rückert, was the only Moscow silversmith whose mark also appeared on Fabergé’s objects. Though Rückert had his own firm and workshop of over 40 workers from which he created and sold his enameled wares, Rückert began working for Fabergé in 1887. This collaboration is known because he presented Fabergé a vase in 1912 commemorating their 25-year working relationship.

Rückert’s shop was honored with commissions for the Imperial family of Russia. He often combined traditional Russian and emerging Art Nouveau motifs and forms as can be seen in the Kovsh. Rückert was also an innovator in enamelwork as well as a harbinger of traditional Usolsk design—shading the enamel in polychrome within the individual cloisons. The kovsh shape represents a dipper, ladle or vessel for drinking mead and often has a boat-like bowl with a figural handle. The form rose in popularity in Russia in the mid-fourteenth century, however wooden kovsh had been used centuries previous. Highly decorative kovsh, such as this one, would have been reserved for special ceremonies. Rückert’s firm, like many, closed during the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Like Rückert, Gustav Klingert, a Muscovite also originally from Germany, worked for the house of Fabergé. In 1865, he established the Gustav Klingert Firm in Moscow with 200 employees. The firm was awarded bronze medals at the Paris World Exposition in 1889, an international showcase for the decorative arts. Just four years later, at the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893 he was noted as one of the most important enamellers of the time. The firm began to export its wares overseas with distribution by Tiffany & Co., New York. Klingert was known for his use of turquoise and cobalt blue that highlighted the object’s form and intricate scrollwork designs. The firm remained in business until 1917. 

Creator of the demitasse cup and saucer, Maria Semenova, was the daughter of Vasiley Semenov—an established silversmith, and was an important silversmith and enameller in her own right. After his death she inherited his workshop hiring up to 100 workers from 1896 to 1904 and began the production of enamels. Her work was unique compared to her contemporaries in the male dominated field and was considered to have a feminine gracefulness that was atypical of older Russian enamels. The Semenova demitasse cup and saucer are fine examples of her distinctive style, one influenced by the Art Nouveau styles of Europe. With flamboyant floral designs and colorful arabesques, this cup and saucer set exemplifies the hallmarks of Semenova’s work. 

The permanent collection contains a rich sampling of many more Russian enamels, all gracious gifts of Ann and Henry Brunnier and the late M. Burton Drexler. For more information on the collection, visit our eMuseum online collections site at


TOP: Kovsh, 1896-1908, Fedor Ivanovich Rückert (Russian, 1840–1917). Assay master: Ivan Lebedkin. Gilded silver and enamel, cabochon-cut carnelians and green jades. Gift of Ann and Henry Brunnier. In the Ann and Henry Brunnier Collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 4.14.4

BOTTOM LEFT: Teapot1893, Gustav Klingert Firm (Russian, 1865–1916). Gilded silver and enamel, mother-of-pearl finial and insulators. Gift of Ann and Henry Brunnier. In the Ann and Henry Brunnier Collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 4.14.13

BOTTOM RIGHT: Demitasse Cup and Saucer, c. 1900, Maria V. Semenova (Russian, life dates unknown, active 1896–1917). Gilded silver and enamel. Gift of Ann and Henry Brunnier. In the Ann and Henry Brunnier Collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 4.14.6ab

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