The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, in the ‘Turquoise Drawing Room’ in First Reserved Apartment of Maximilian Duke of Leuchtenberg by 1866.
Emmanuel Ducamp, “The Winter Palace, Saint Petersburg”, 1994, p. 218, illustrating a watercolour by Eduard Petrovich Hau of 1866 (in the Hermitage Museum) of the First Reserved Apartment of Maximilian Duke of Leuchtenberg showing the incense burners in situ.
A very important pair of Russian Empire gilt and patinated bronze incense burners, one with a circular inventory metal plaque reading 'N.3', each stamped accordingly on the tripod base and both with a paper label to the underside inscribed in Cyrillic for 'Z.D./Pol.Glav./Kom.50.Oct.No.678', each with a patinated lid cast and mounted with stars, anthemions and acanthus and surmounted by a star studded spherical finial over a dished bowl with stiff leaf rim supported on the heads and outstretched wings of three female herms wearing Egyptian headdresses and having tails with serpentine heads and butterfly wings which flank a central vase-shaped support mounted with Medusa mask heads resting on an anthemion and lotus leaf cup, upon a patinated circular pedestal on three conjoined foliate lion paw feet on a triangular concave-sided base with canted corners
Saint Petersburg, date circa 1810
Height 56 cm, diameter 22 cm. each.
These elegant incense burners or brûle-parfums boast a highly important provenance for they once stood in the 'Turquoise Drawing Room' at the Winter Palace, the main residence of the Russian Imperial family in Saint Petersburg. This elegant barrel-vaulted room, with its soft turquoise walls, numerous gilt-framed paintings and blue upholstery formed part of a suite of rooms belonging to Maximilian of Leuchtenberg and acted as an ante chamber to the 'Large Drawing Room'. A watercolour dated 1866 by Eduard Petrovich Hau (1807-87) shows the pair in situ, set at one end of the room above a settee and directly in front of a long pier glass mirror. In 1839 Maximilian Duke of Leuchtenberg, an heir to the old French Beauharnais family and grandson of Empress Josephine of France, married the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, daughter of Tsar Nicholas I. The couple were not only united by family ties but they shared a passion for the arts and as such were avid collectors. Following their marriage the Duke and Duchess of Leuchtenberg lived in the Winter Palace until they moved to the Marinsky Palace which, completed in 1844, had been built for them by the Tsar.
By the time of the Russian Revolution the Winter Palace was predominantly used for official purposes. Many of the furnishings and artefacts were destroyed during the storming of the Winter Palace but those survived or had been removed beforehand were subsequently sold through Antikvariat, a state run commission shop that catered to foreigners and diplomats. Because of this many of the luxury items from the Winter Palace were dispersed and are now extremely rare, especially items such as these that bear original documented provenance. Not only do they have the original labels and marks but can also be seen in situ in Hau's 1866 watercolour.
Whilst made in Saint Petersburg during the early nineteenth century the inspiration for these sumptuous incense burners was undoubtedly French and in particular Parisian. At that period the designs of Percier and Fontaine, who largely helped create a specific Empire style for Napoleon Bonaparte exerted a strong influence upon the Saint Petersburg designers and craftsmen. One can also cite many similarities between the design of the present pieces and the work of the renowned Empire bronzier Claude Galle (1759-1815) who often collaborated with Percier and Fontaine. For instance Galle's bronzes tended to be of similar complexity and as here often integrated Egyptian with Greco Roman motifs. Similar luxury pieces by Galle include an incense burner of 1810 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London as well as a pair of ewers and clock garniture (respectively illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, "Vergoldete Bronzen", 1986, p. 363, pl.5.12.5 and p. 364, pl. 5.12.6).