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A PAIR OF LOUIS XV SILVER DISH-COVERS AND A PAIR OF RUSSIAN SILVER DISHES FROM THE ORLOFF SERVICE
A PAIR OF LOUIS XV SILVER DISH-COVERS AND A PAIR OF RUSSIAN SILVER DISHES FROM THE ORLOFF SERVICE

THE DISH-COVERS WITH THE MARK OF JACQUES-NICOLAS ROETTIERS, PARIS, 1771, ONE DISH WITH THE MARK OF JOHAN HEINRICH BLOHM, ST. PETERSBURG, 1782, THE OTHER APPARENTLY UNMARKED, CIRCA 1782

Details
A PAIR OF LOUIS XV SILVER DISH-COVERS AND A PAIR OF RUSSIAN SILVER DISHES FROM THE ORLOFF SERVICE
THE DISH-COVERS WITH THE MARK OF JACQUES-NICOLAS ROETTIERS, PARIS, 1771, ONE DISH WITH THE MARK OF JOHAN HEINRICH BLOHM, ST. PETERSBURG, 1782, THE OTHER APPARENTLY UNMARKED, CIRCA 1782
The lobed circular covers with ribbon-tied reeded borders, applied with fruiting husk swags and with pine cone finial above chased foliage, the dishes each circular with guilloché border, the dish-covers each marked inside on border, the rims further marked with the décharge of Julien Alaterre and Russian import marks, each further stamped with inventory number '55' and '66', one dish marked underneath, each further stamped with inventory number '85' and '791' and engraved with scratchweights
The dishes 13 in. (33 cm.) diameter
The covers 9 7/8 in. (25 cm.) diameter
178 oz. 15 dwt. (5,560 gr.) (4)
Provenance
Commissioned by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia (r.1762-1796) through her art advisor in Paris, Etienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-1791), later given by her to Count Gregory Orloff (1734-1783), after 1772.
Re-acquired by Catherine the Great, after 1784, then by descent to
Czar Nicholas II (r.1894-1917), until 1917.
The Soviet Government, sold by them circa 1930.
Camille Plantevignes.
Collection Camille Plantevignes; sold hôtel George V, Paris, Me Tajan, 28 March 1995, lot 87.
Literature
Baron A. de Foelkersam, Inventaire de L'Argenterie conservé dans les Gardes-Meubles des Palais Impériaux, St. Petersburg, 1907.
D. Langeois, et al., Quelques chefs d'oeuvres de la Collection Djahanguir Riahi, Milan, 1999, pp. 261-263.

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Lot Essay

CATHERINE THE GREAT AND THE ORLOFF SERVICE
The Riahi dishes and covers form part of the celebrated Orloff Service, arguably the greatest commission of French silver made for the Russian court in the 18th century. Empress Catherine the Great (r.1762-1796) ordered the service from the leading Parisian silversmiths Jacques Roettiers and his son Jacques-Nicolas Roettiers in 1770. The service was intended for use at the court of the Empress and, although it was, she subsequently presented it to her lover and political ally Count Gregory Orloff. Roettiers, father and son, both Orfèvres du Roi, enlisted at least four other workshops to produce an astonishing 3,000 pieces in only 18 months. By 1907, however, when Baron A. de Foelkersam published his well-known inventory of the Russian Imperial silver collections, only around 1,000 pieces survived.

Like Peter the Great before her, Catherine II, Empress of All the Russias, sought to create an enlightened government adorned by Western civilities. To this end, she imported not only Western intellectuals, but also Western art, which she bought in vast quantities. One purchase stands out in particular, the acquisition of almost 200 pictures from Houghton Hall, sold by the descendants of Robert Walpole through Christie's in 1779. She also acquired a collection of 225 pictures from Johann Gotskowski of Berlin in 1764 and the vast 'Swan' service of Meissen porcelain from Heinrich von Brühl of Saxony in 1769. Countless works of French art made to order were also added to her collection including pictures, furniture, Sévres porcelain, Gobelins tapestries, and magnificent Parisian silver. The silver and porcelain in particular were purchased with a view to elevating manners at official entertainments thereby ending the tradition by which guests had to eat several courses off the same plate. The greatest realisation of this goal was undoubtedly the French silver service by Roettiers, now known as the 'Orloff Service'.

COUNT ORLOFF AND THE LATER HISTORY OF THE SERVICE
When Emperor Peter III, Catherine's unpopular husband, succeeded in 1762, it only took a few months for Catherine's partisans to remove him from the throne, and he died 'of apoplexy' shortly thereafter. Instrumental in Catherine's immediate succession as Empress were the four Orloff brothers, among them Gregory, her lover of twelve years. After her accession, Catherine raised Orloff to the rank of Count, improved his standing in the military, and gave him many gifts, though she drew the line at marrying him and so having to relinquish her absolute power.

The order of the Orloff service is extensively documented by correspondence surviving in the Court Ministerial Archives and published by Foelkersam in 1907 (op. cit., vol. II, pp. 87-124). The letters show that, beginning in March 1770, Catherine enlisted her most important art advisor, the French sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet, who was working in St. Petersburg from 1766 to 1778, to procure for her a silver dinner service from Paris 'for the court of her Imperial Majesty.' Catherine had been introduced to Falconet by her Ambassador in Paris, Prince Dmitry Golitsyn, in 1766. Golitsyn, established in French intellectual circles, procured important pictures for the Empress and also introduced her to Diderot, a close friend of Falconet who also influenced her collecting activities. Falconet was persuaded to move to St. Petersburg in 1766 by Catherine's commission to create a monumental bronze equestrian sculpture of Peter the Great, finally completed in 1782.

On 13 February 1770, Catherine wrote to Falconet, 'I hear you have some designs for a silver service... I should like to see them if you will show them to me, for I have a mind to order one for sixty people'. The result of this 'fantaisie' as she put it, was one of the largest orders of French silver ever executed, numbering over 3,000 pieces when it was completed in 1773. While one of Catherine's letters of April 1770 expressed reservations about the projected cost of the service, Falconet's reply in May pronounced the designs to represent 'bon gôut dans l'orfèvrerie', and the commission was approved. Falconet ordered the service through the St. Petersburg retailer Barral, Chanony & Cie., and payment was recorded on 14 January 1771, with the transfer of funds to their agent at the French Court, Nikolai Khotinskii, 'for delivery to the silversmiths Roettiers on account of the famous table service'.

Unable to share the throne with Catherine, Orloff became highly dissatisfied with his position. A fascinating letter in Catherine's own hand, presumably addressed to Ivan Grigorevitch Orloff, the eldest of the brothers, and written in 1772, outlines the terms of reconciliation with the Orloff brothers. Her letter underscored these terms by including a list of gifts, with one of the most valuable being item 11: 'the silver service, French produced, which is kept in the cabinet. I would like to give to Count G.G., together with that which was bought for everyday use from the Danish Minister' (A.P. Barsukov, Stories from Russian History, St. Petersburg, 1885, as quoted in Foelkersam, op. cit.). Orloff received the first shipment on 17 September 1772, and continued to accept a series of deliveries until 1776, the year that she and Orloff finally separated. Orloff then retreated to Holland, only returning to Russia in 1782, where he died in 1783.

Following the count's death Catherine instantly ordered the return of the dinner service, but Orloff's heirs managed to take possession of it and she was compelled to buy it back from the family. The documents indicate that, in preparation for this purchase, it was Catherine herself who ordered that the silver be assayed and marked with Russian hallmarks, which can still be found on all the pieces in the service alongside the original French marks. She also directed the removal of the Orloff coat-of-arms, described in a letter from the Chief Court Chancellor Aleksandr Bezborodko to another brother Gregorii Nikitich Orloff, 'Regarding the purchase by the wish of her Imperial Majesty on 22nd of June last of the large silver service belonging to the late General Field Marshall Prince Grigorii Grigor'evich Orloff, Her Majesty desires to make the service for general use and wishes to remove the coat-of-arms therefrom. I abide by this desire. Your Excellency's humble servant Aleksandr Bezborodko'. Finally, on July 17 1784, the Court Office ordered Aide-de-Camp Colonel Buxhoevden to ensure 'that the above-mentioned service... should be listed and weighed with their cases for delivery to Her Majesty's silver-stewards Konstantin Kulichkin and Ivan Rodionov'.

The Orloff Service remained in the Imperial Collection under the Emperors Paul, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II and III and finally Nicholas II. The Soviet government sold some pieces privately through a representative in Berlin, according to French silver dealer Jacques Helft, who acquired a number of pieces. There were also pieces sold at auction in Berlin circa 1930. Today, only 46 pieces from the Orloff service survive in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg and 123 in the Armoury Museum at the Kremlin, Moscow, with 230 pieces known in collections outside Russia. The most recent pieces to be offered at auction were a pair of dishes and covers sold anonymously, Christie's Paris, 14 December 2004, lot 385 (272,250 Euros); as well as a pair of similar covers although lacking their dishes, which were sold from the collection of Paul-Louis Weiller, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 5-8 April 2011, lot 425.

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