Commissioned in 1776 by Catherine the Great through her ambassador to the Court at Versailles, Prince Ivan Sergeyvich Bariatinsky, the Service aux Camées took three years to produce. The full service of 60 covers, comprising some 797 pieces in custom designed classical shapes, was the most elaborate and expensive ever produced by Sèvres. At a total cost of 331,317 livres, the service made for the empress of all the Russias was a tour-de-force of design and manufacturing techniques. However, its manufacture nearly bankrupted the factory, with the final late payment in 1792 closely averting this disaster.
The present cup and saucer is one of only 24 sets in this size made for the service at a cost of 159 livres per set. Its appearance at auction is extremely rare, as nearly all of the original service is retained in St Petersburg at the Hermitage. The last time pieces from the service made at Sèvres for Catherine the Great appeared on the international auction market was over ten years ago, when the present cup and saucer was purchased in Paris.
The Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris retains a bound volume of Dessins et Devis du Service de Porcelaine pour l'Impératrice de Russie 1778 in which can be interpreted the development of the production. For a discussion of the service and the details behind its production, see David Peters, Sèvres Plates and Services of the 18th Century, Privately Printed, Little Berkhansted, UK, 2005, vol. III, pp. 601-605; also Versailles et les Tables Royales en Europe XVIIème - XIXème Siecles, 3 November 1993 - 27 February 1994, nos. 232-248, pp. 322-327 and Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue ofg the Sèvres Porcelain, London, 1988, vol. II, pp. 762-782, nos. C474-479. .
The mark of Jean-Pierre Boulanger, recorded as a gilder at Vincennes and Sèvres 1754-1785, appears on many pieces of the service among which are the present cup and saucer and a plate in the collection of the British Museum also painted the same cameo scene of Pan leading his herd found on the present saucer.