February 1, 1744, while on diplomatic business in Stockholm,
Empress Elizabeth's chamberlain, Baron Nikolai Korf, signed
a contract with a certain Christoph Hunger in which the latter
undertook "to establish in St. Petersburg a manufactory
for the production of pure porcelain such as made in Saxony".
As soon as the newly engaged foreigner arrived in Russia,
Empress Elizabeth ordered the head of her Imperial Cabinet,
Baron Ivan Cherkasov, to organize and oversee the future porcelain
production. He was aware that attempts to manufacture china
had been made in the earthenware factory of the court supplier,
Afanasiy Grebenshchikov, and that the brothers Andrei and
Alexei Kursin were experimenting at Tsarskoe Selo, using information
purchased from the master of the Peking factory during the
visit of a trading caravan under Gerasim Lebratovski. The
latter had been obsessed with the idea of uncovering the "Chinese"
secret. The baron was in no way prepared to forgo this lucrative
business, especially as the empress herself had manifested
a personal interest.
In St. Petersburg, porcelain master Hunger was given strong
moral and material support as well as a free hand. Soon, however,
he aroused suspicion because of his frequently unfounded claims,
his arrogance and his truculent character. The administrator
of the state-owned Nevski brickworks, where the porcelain
factory was to be established, Osip Tresin (Giuseppe Trezzini,
nephew and son-in-law of the first St. Petersburg architect,
Domenico Trezzini), wrote to Baron Tcherkasov: "His (Hunger's)
talk sounds quite promising, but whether fruit will come from
him in future God only knows, and as can be heard from some
people he has been in Hispania, in Venice, in Vienna and then
in Sweden, but was never fruitful, and whether that is true
or not the future will tell."
It turned out that Hunger knew too little to be able to
initiate production. The "fruit" of his activities
in the factory before his suspension in 1748 amounted to "only
half a dozen cups and these had neither the color nor the
shape of porzelin: they were black and crooked".
Baron Cherkasov was now obliged to look abroad for another
expert in porcelain making or to entrust the "work of
porzelin" to Dmitri Vinogradov, who, in 1744, had been
assigned to the factory at the personal ukase of the empress
to work as Hunger's apprentice.
Dmitri Vinogradov was the son of a priest in Susdal. Like
his older brother, Dmitri had been sent by his father to the
Slav-Greek-Latin Academy, the oldest theological school in
Russia, which stood in the grounds of the St. Saviour monastery.
He had what was considered at the time extensive knowledge
in history, geography, philosophy, politics, mathematics,
rhetoric, logic and Latin. Exceptional natural gifts, youthful
vitality and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge enabled
Vinogradov to complete three classes in one year. At the directive
of the Senate, the twelve best scholars were sent for further
schooling to the capital. After another three years the Secret
Cabinet of Ministers endorsed the candidature of three graduates
from the Academy of Sciences for further training abroad.
Chosen again were Dmitri Vinogradov, Mikhail Lomonosov and
Gustav U. Reiser, the son of a mining councilor.
studied at the respected University of Marburg under Professor
Christian Wolf. Their subjects were "chemical science,
mining, natural history, physics, geometry, mechanics, hydraulics
and hydrotechnics". After that they looked for lodgings
in the mining centre of Freiberg and continued their training
under the professor of mining physics Johann Henkel. After
a training period abroad of more than five years, Henkel praised
his pupil Vinogradov. But the highest praise Vinogradov received
came on his return to St. Petersburg after being examined
by the president of the college of mining, Vikentiy Reiser,
who reported: "... among all the foreign mining engineers
hired from abroad for wages and food, I know not one who surpasses
Vinogradov in all aspects of the science of mining and many
are not even equal to him."
Already under Christoph Hunger the young mining engineer
had undertaken independent analyses of raw materials and sought
the composition of the porcelain paste. Baron Cherkasov, knowing
this and considering Vinogradov's knowledge promising, now
entrusted him with the manufacture of porcelain.
In contrast to his predecessors, Vinogradov started from
the scientific premise that "the work of porzelin has
chemistry as its base and its most important pathfinder".
He submitted all his tests to thorough evaluation, entering
the formulae for his recipe into a special record book in
strict chronological order. At the behest of the careful minister
of state, however, he encoded his entries. Vinogradov was
not permitted to disclose the exact purpose of his experiments
even to his closest assistant, Nikita Voilov, who had been
working in the factory since 1745.
Between 1746 and 1748 all experiments were aimed at achieving
pieces, which, after firing, would not be rough but would
be reasonably white, thin shelled and lustrous. At the same
time Vinogradov set out to prepare porcelain paint for decoration.
In February 1750 he entered into his record book: "Onto
glazed cup of paste Nr. 2 enamelled the colors cherry, green
and blue in the kiln, also added gold. They came out quite
well, especially the green one is lovely." Barely half
a year later, on the empress's birthday, Baron Cherkasov was
able to present her with magnificent porcelain snuffboxes,
which had been made in her own porcelain factory.
These snuff boxes were so enchanting that the entire court
wished to acquired them for their use, often decorated with
personal initials. They were especially popular since snuff
had become the fashion at the court of Empress Elizabeth.
Particularly coveted were rectangular boxes in the shape of
a sealed, addressed letter, which had been approved personally
by the empress. "The recently begun porzelin workings
have, by God's grace, reached such a degree of reliability",
wrote Baron Cherkasov in a cabinet ukase of 1752, "that
there is without doubt every hope that we shall see it in
all its perfection in the not too distant future".
The better the porcelain became, the more the orders flowed
in. The ceaseless hard work, the difficult working conditions,
the Baron's incessant criticisms and the lack of any sense
of personal freedom increasingly so oppressed Vinogradov that
he could no longer bear it and he turned to drink. Cherkasov
devised various forms of punishment, which further degraded
the mining engineer. After one renewed denunciation the noble
minister issued a personal order to the factory: "Should
he, Vinogradov, not demonstrate sufficient vigilance out of
his own sense of duty, he must be held under guard near the
kiln for the entire time of firing, even if it entails his
sleeping there." Even this remained without effect. Later
Vinogradov was put in chains and was thus forced to finish
his "Detailed description of pure porcelain and how the
same is made at St. Petersburg" which he had already
begun at the orders of the baron in 1752. This was the result
of 13 years of unceasing work for the good of his country.
The scholar's monograph as preserved is incomplete but many
of the principles contained in it are still valid for porcelain
In the preface to his work the scholar lists three main motives
which prompted him to embark "on such an important, or
rather bold, undertaking". The first reason was because
of "his employment", the second: "So that I
and those who come after me may find out exactly from this
description in which way the works in the porzelin trade were
executed ... and need not search again by the sweat of their
brow for something that has already been sought and found
under great difficulty and been established by reliable tests".
The third reason was "mainly that crooks and confidence
tricksters will not be able to cheat us as easily in future".
In order to secure the future for the porcelain factory,
Vinogradov looked for capable people and saw to their training.
From 1746 onwards the white ware turner Filipp Fyodorov and
the modeller Pyotr Leontyev worked in the factory. They had
been sent by Afanasiy Grebenshchikov. The mining engineer
immediately attached the young worker Miron Ushakov to them
for training. Ushakov, together with other serfs, had been
taken over from the brickworks. The "stucco masters"
Yakov Ilyin and Vasili Vereshchagin were employed as modellers.
A three-year contract was signed with the French sculptor
Jean Baptiste Vistarini, who had to produce the sketched designs
and the models. For joining and turning work Pyotr Sakharov
was employed. The factory's first porcelain painters in 1749
came from Moscow -Ivan Tchornyi with his sons, serfs of Count
Pyotr Sheremetyev. After the death of Ivan Tchornyi his second
son Alexander took over his post, working together with Andrei.
In order "to learn to paint with enamel colors"
the Academy of Arts in 1753 delegated Pimen Tupizyn, Fyodor
Alexeyev and Lev Terski. In addition to adults, Vinogradov
insisted that youngsters should also be employed in the factory.
They were taught to read and write and at the same time were
trained in porcelain manufacture.
The employees' lot was not an enviable one: hard working
conditions went hand in hand with corporal punishment for
the least transgression. Dmitri Vinogradov, who himself, in
effect, was only a serf, tried more than once to protect the
workers from the supervisors' whims and insisted tenaciously
on an increase of wages and food rations.
His strength, however, was visibly diminishing. The Latin
lines entered between formulae and recipes in his record book
must be regarded as a cry of despair:
"My spirit is oppressed by the load of work done
Youth was short, early on I became an old man."
Mentally worn out and physically emaciated, Vinogradov was
no longer able to bear his burden: he died on August 25, 1758
aged 38. He was probably buried in the Preobashenski cemetery
near the factory. Unfortunately neither the grave of the creator
of Russian porcelain nor the graveyard are still in existence.
After Vinogradov's death his assistant Nikita Voinov took
over responsibility for production in the porcelain factory.
Empress Elizabeth was succeeded on the throne by Peter III
(1761-1762). During his short reign the factory was placed
under the aegis of the Senate and then back again under that
of the Cabinet. And "Councillor and Professor Mikhailo
Lomonosov", who had been appointed administrator by imperial
ukase, was dismissed before he could take up his assignment.
The factory continued to work according to the rules and methods
introduced by Vinogradov.
Russian porcelain was in no way inferior to that of Saxony,
and the paste made of native raw material came close to that
of China. Apart from the many snuff boxes, tea, coffee and
chocolate cups with saucers were produced, as well as tea
and coffee pots, milk jugs, slop bowls, beakers, boxes, sweetmeat
dishes, liqueur "glasses", salt cellars, walking
stick tops, handles for knives and forks, punch spoons, buttons
for caftans and camisoles, pipes, Easter eggs and many other
small items since the kilns built by Vinogradov were not suitable
for anything larger.
From 1756 onwards, however, when he managed to build a large
kiln, plates, dishes, trays, candelabra, wine and glass coolers
were produced. This is also the period of the first table
service, which belonged to Empress Elizabeth personally and
was thus called "Sobstvennyi" ("Own").
The example of this service clearly shows the progress porcelain
manufacture made under Vinogradov. The service is of simple
elegance. The plates with osier-moulded well have a wavy-shaped
border. Each woven band of the osier pattern is accentuated
by a small flower petal. Most impressive however are the sculpted
flower garlands on the large pieces, each of which is of unique
design. Only in Russia was china decorated in this manner.
The porcelain colors were purple and gold. The pieces owe
their massive thickness not to imperfections of the manufacture,
but to Baron Cherkasov's idea that "thicker meant better".
During the early 1750s we also find the first reports about
the production of "porcelain dolls" - figures of
people and animals. At first they bore little relation to
porcelain sculptures: in their clumsiness they were rather
reminiscent of the wood and clay toys usual in Russia. The
figure from the writing set "Bear" in the factory
museum and the blackamoor group in the Hermitage collection
are of this kind. With increasing experience the pieces became
better sculpted and the decor more perfect. The series of
Oriental people in national costume and the Oriental chess
figures belong to the 1760s.
In copying the Meissen figures the Russian modellers did
not slavishly follow the originals, but brought their own
ideas and perceptions into play.
Progress can also be clearly seen in the evolution of porcelain
painting from the initially simple monochrome drawings to
refined miniatures. It is remarkable in this context that
the colors and gilding, which at first covered entire surfaces
in order to hide deficiencies in the material were later,
abandoned in order to emphasize the quality of the porcelain
itself. In order to gild the individual pieces Baron Cherkasov,
along with his commission, sent gold coins from the imperial
treasury, which Vinogradov had to turn into gold paint.
The tastes of aristocratic society in porcelain in the middle
of the 18th century tended towards the affected and elaborates
Rococo - visible in its most extreme form in the pieces produced
by Meissen. Although the Vinogradov porcelain was influenced
by west European art, it developed in the direction of greater
naturalness and simplicity and retained the charm of Russian
folk art. A clearly expressed artistic direction was hardly
to be expected in this early phase. Only a few pieces of the
Vinogradov period have survived and are today of enormous