Grygor (Gregory) Sapieha (circa 1560-1600)
At the time this magnificent beaker was previously exhibited and subsequently sold at auction (op. cit.), the inscription was wrongly translated as:
"This cup was ordered in 1560 by Gregory Lord of Orcha (sic) for his dear friend Theodosia."
This mistranslation is important as subsequent research has concentrated on trying to identify a Gregory, Lord of Orsha, who would presumably have had to be at least in his twenties to have ordered such an object and, again presumably, would have been married to a Theodosia, both of which would rule out Grygor Sapieha as the original owner.
A careful study of the leading Orsha families around this date reveals no other Grygor who would have been described as "master". He appears to have been the second son of Ivan Sapieha, podstarosta (deputy district administrator) of Orsha and his wife, Drucka Sokolinska Konopla, who died in 1580 and 1584 respectively. Although the year of his birth seems to be unrecorded his elder brother, the celebrated Polish-Lithuanian statesman, Lew Sapieha was born in 1557. It seems likely then that Gregory was born either in 1559 or 1560. Grygor also had a younger brother and three sisters none of whose years of birth are recorded. He was appointed to the important role of podkomorzy (chamberlain) of Orsha in 1585 and, in the same year, married Zofia Strawinska (d.1611). They had three children, Aleksander Bohdan (1585-1635), starosta ( district administrator) of Orsha in 1588, Krzvsztof Stephan (1590-1627) and Anna.
The Armoury Beaker
That such beakers were given as christening presents appears to be confirmed by the inscription on a remarkably similar beaker, although dated twenty years later and less exotically engraved, in the collection of the State Moscow Kremlin Museum, (G. Filimonov, Opes moskovskoi omjeinoi palati, Moscow, 1885, vol. II, p.111, cat. no. 1598, ill.). Unfortunately, it has not as yet been possible to identify for which family this was made, but the inscription on this beaker has also been translated in a number of ways although this seems the most probable;
"This cup was ordered for Lupekhuru and his wife Christina to give to their daughter, Grozava.
Let us drink to her health in the summer of 1580, month of August on the 8th day."
It is interesting to note that Filiminov, writing in 1885 (op. cit.), records that the Emperor Alexander III drank a traditional combination of mead mixed with wine out of this, even then, three hundred year old beaker at a state banquet held in the Facetted Palace in the Kremlin, following his coronation in 1883. It is tempting to suggest it was selected for use on this historic occasion for the combination of its secular origin, early Slavonic inscription, size and sheer beauty.
In addition to the Armoury beaker and the present example, Postnikova-Losseva (op. cit. p. 369) records the existence of a further three beakers of this type, which were, at the time of writing, in "the Margineli and Tisman monasteries (and) in the Russian Museum, Leningrad".
Polish-Lithuania and Lew Sapieha (1557-1633).
While it should be mentioned that in her article on this beaker written at the time of its only other appearance on the auction market, Postnikova-Losseva (loc.cit.) states that "the arrangements of the inscriptions on ribbons (?) and the style of lettering suggest that the beaker was made in Moldavia". However, while it appears that the beaker is based on Mamluk prototypes both in form and indeed some elements of the decoration, there really seems little reason to doubt, as the inscription implies, that it was made further north in what was then the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in or around the town of Orsha.
This ancient town is recorded as early as 1067 AD by its old name Rsha. On the Dneiper, it is now in Belarus close to the Russian border and it is this proximity that made it so important from a military point of view in the 16th and early 17th century, a time when three generations of the Sapiehas were among its leading citizens. Indeed, in 1514 an historic victory of Lithuanian and Polish forces over the army of the grand Duchy of Muscovy took place near, and was named after, the town of Orsha.
In the 15th Century, at the time of its greatest expansion, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was immense and indeed the largest country in Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea and incorporated besides present day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Transnistria and parts of Russia and Poland. The expansion of Russia including the annexation of Novgorod in 1478, in the late 15th and early 16th centuries led to a closer alliance between the Grand Duchy and Poland. This process culminated in the Treaty of Vilnius in 1569 by which the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was formally established. Although Poland came to dominate the Commonwealth the Grand Duchy of Lithuania retained a separate government, treasury and army until 1791.
Grygor's elder brother, Lew Sapieha was one of the great statesmen of the early period of the Commonwealth. Under the Grand Duchy of Lithuania he became Great Secretary (1580), Great Clerk (1581) and Court Chancellor (1589-1623). He was respected as a statesman, lawyer and military leader. He supported a political union with Muscovy from 1584 to 1600 when he lead a mission to Moscow to propose such a union but this was rejected by the Regent and later Tsar, Boris Godunov. He fought in the wars with Muscovy under Stefan Batory, King of Poland and Duke of Lithuania (1575-1586) and subsequently under Sigismund III Vasa, elected King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1587-1632). As Chancellor he supervised the publication of the final version of the written constitution of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the first in Europe.
The Lubovitch Collection
Although little seems to be recorded about Eugéne Lubovitch it is likely that he was associated with the firm of Lubovitch and Rossi which, as early as 1919, appears to have been representing the American-Russian Industrial Syndicate Inc, backed by the Guggenheim brothers and others, in new the new post-revolutionary Russia. As such, he would have been in a perfect position to form the remarkable Lubovitch collection of mainly 17th and 18th century pieces. It included some seventeen Imperial presentation kovshi given by Tsars Alexis Mikhailovitch (1645-1676), Peter the Great (1696-1725) and Catherine the Great (1762-1796) among others. In addition, it featured wonderful bratinas, charkas, standing cups and superb nielloed objects as well as the present beaker which was, without doubt, one of its earliest and most significant works of art of Slavic interest.
Christie's would like to thank the State Moscow Kremlin Museum for their comments on their beaker, Peter Collingridge for his translation of the inscription on the beaker and Wynyard Wilkinson and Malgorzata Bek for their researches.