ALVR Blog: A Toast to Russian Art
Once simply traditional Russian drinking vessles, the kovsh and charka assumed an increasingly ceremonial status over the centuries, evolving into works of art. Check out our video or continue reading below:
The kovsh form has existed in Russia for centuries, originating as a type of drinking vessel in the shape of a duck. They were made of wood, and some were also made out of tightly woven cloth. In the 16th century, they evolved into presentation objects and began to be fashioned in silver. By the 17th century, kovshi (plural for kovsh) designs became more elaborate, rendered in both gold and silver.
Two examples of kovshi in our collection were made by the Russian Court Jeweler Carl Faberge (1846-1920). While famous for his Imperial Easter Eggs, he designed a wide range of decorative objects, often transforming traditional Slavic forms into his own beautiful precious jeweled vernacular. This yellow kovsh features rich guilloché enamel, a technique typical of Fabergé’s work, and for which he was renowned, and in this special case over 18k gold. The 5-ruble coin of Empress Elizabeth (r. 1741-1762) set in the base is a modification of an old Slavic tradition of insetting metal objects with coins. Traditional in form with a European touch, it’s an exquisite example of Eastern and Western aesthetics converging into a beautiful design. It was made in St. Petersburg, Russia’s window to the West, where art and architecture followed a European model. Moreover, we’re particularly fortunate to have Fabergé’s watercolor sketch.
Our other Fabergé kovsh, of particularly impressive stature, was by contrast made in Moscow, and its polychrome enameled design reflects those origins, a hallmark of the eastern, Muscovite style. This circa 1910 example is Fabergé’s take on Slavic Revival, a stylistic movement that emerged in the nineteenth century when Russian artists turned to the medieval past for design inspiration. Also referred to as Pan Slavic, this style was a specialty of Fabergé’s Moscow branch. Featuring contrasting fluid, bold art nouveau forms on the handle and upper portion of the cup, with purely geometric designs in a pastel palette on the base, this kovsh is also distinguished by the inscription on the handle, translating to “To the good memory of Russian friends,” for its 1914 presentation.
The charka, or charki (plural), is a small cup used for drinking strong drinks, predominantly vodka. They were traditionally made of silver, and their designs varied widely. Like kovshi, in time they evolved into decorative objects, some inscribed as presentation gifts, others with drinking maxims. This example is by Alexander Treiden, head workmaster for the Russian court jeweler Carl Hahn (1836–1899), Fabergé’s highly regarded contemporary. Simply designed in red enamel and gold, the handle is set with an emerald.
No longer simply drinking vessels, over time the kovsh and charka became objects as worthy of display as any other work of art. And to that, we raise a toast!