Russian porcelain is widely known and is often used as a traditional gift.
The art of decorative painting on porcelain is handed down by craftsmen from generation to generation.
Few of us, however, have asked ourselves what exactly is depicted on a Gzhel teapot or a Lomonosov porcelain cup.
The blue color, glazed cobalt, has a long history.
Majolica made in Gzhel, 60 kilometers from Moscow, has traditionally been decorated with glazed cobalt.
Archeological excavations prove that the craft of pottery has existed in Gzhel since the beginning of the 14th century.
In the second half of the 17th century, Afanasy Grebenshchikov, a merchant, built a manufacture where he made various kinds of majolica earthenware. For his ware, he used the famous white clay (Gzhel), as well as the experience of potters from Gzhel. Upon returning to their homes, the craftsmen began establishing their own majolica manufactures.
Traditionally, Gzhel porcelain has been decorated using flower motifs, the Gzhel Rose, for example, and fabulous creatures such as the Firebird.
Gzhel porcelain often features octagonal shapes, shapes with eight radial points, shapes with twelve or six radial points, as well as a three-leaf clover.
What do these symbols represent?
The Firebird is a pagan, pre-Christian god of the ancient Slavs, the embodiment of the god of storms. In Slavic tales, this is a fairy bird that flies from another kingdom (a faraway land).
The Firebird is a very ancient pagan god that has survived only in traditional Russian folk tales.
The symbol of the Sumerian goddess Inanna (Ishtar) denotes `clear sky`, which was ruled by Zeus. The late Scythians traced their origins back to Zeus. His third wife, Hera, was a co-ruler of the sky. Her symbol was a duck (`sunny` in Sumerian), a golden bird or Zhar bird (Russian name of the Firebird, deriving from the Scythian zar, gold).
It is assumed that the Firebird of the ancient Slavs came from the Zhar bird (Golden Bird) of the Scythians.
Flowers were the symbol of the sun among the ancient Slavs. Flowers were braided into the hair of girls during celebrations of the ancient festival dedicated to the god the Sun.
The bud of a flower symbolizes a possibility.
A flower in full bloom represents development and fruition.
The ancient Slavs often used ceramic jars for religious purposes, as well as calendars. This gave rise to the tradition of decorating tableware with octagons (ancient Slavs recognized eight parts of the world) and calendar symbols (the twelve months).
The three-leaf clover symbolized a part of the tree of life, procreation, and the connection between the ancestors and future generations. The symbol of the tree of life is very ancient and exists in the folklore of many peoples. D. Melchizedek wrote that this symbol includes all the formulas of the creation of the world?—every single one of them.
Let us, however, return to the later historical period.
During the Middle Ages, cobalt glazed decoration enjoyed especial popularity.
Gzhel craftsmen like to say that there is no blue like the blue of their sky in Russia.
So, the idea came to them to transfer this blue onto white porcelain.
The design is transferred to unfired majolica or porcelain. After it is fired at a very high temperature, the paint acquires its famous deep blue color and becomes glazed over by the process. The design is very durable. The colors and the glaze shimmer. It looks delicate and esthetically pleasing on white porcelain and porcelain with gold, and gives a delicate and elite character to the tableware.
In the beginning of the 18th century, porcelain was especially popular in the Russian Empire. It was valued more highly than gold. The French Imperial Plant was one of the main manufacturers of porcelain tableware. Porcelain items were manufactured for the court of the Bourbons, and blue was the traditional color for decoration, since it was the color of the coat of arms of the Bourbons. Soon, Russia acquired this tradition - porcelain of that time was often decorated with blue and gold. Initially, this tradition was not as widespread, and the `ancestor` of the modern, world-famous cobalt mesh of the Lomonosov Plant, the set that belonged to the Empress Elizabeth, known for her passion for porcelain, was pink. (Cups of this design are still being manufactured and are called pink mesh).
Glazed cobalt, however, has become characteristic of Russian porcelain, due to the technology of its manufacture - the higher firing technology than that of the French porcelain.
Later, under the the influence of Empire, the style that Catherine the Great was especially fond of, many buildings in St. Petersburg and Moscow were decorated in blue and gold. Glazed cobalt decoration of porcelain items augmented by gold over glaze was especially popular at that time.
These traditions may also be noted in the world-famous cobalt mesh, blue, flower motifs of glazed cobalt - an Empire - style tree of life, and gold over glaze that symbolizes the ancient Firebird.
Cobalt Blue and White tea sets