Tea canisters and tray

ARTIST / MAKER: Demidoff Copper Manufactory (manufacturer)
DATE: ca.1770 (made)
PLACE: Russia
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Patinated and chased copper with parcel gilding

Tea first came to Russia by camel caravan in the first half of the 17th century, when Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich received tea leaves as a gift from a Mongol ruler. The difficulty of the caravan journey, as well as high Russian tariffs meant that tea was the preserve of Russian royalty and the wealthiest members of aristocracy. As the fashion for tea-drinking spread across Europe towards Russia, so did the preferred forms, styles and ornament. Made at the Demidoff copper manufactory, these patinated copper tea canisters and tray are chased with blossoms, fruit and rocaille scrolls typical of the Rococo style favoured in Western European courts.

Ennobled under Peter the Great, the Demidoffs were among the most important industrialists of Russia until the 19th century and one of the wealthiest families of the Tsarist Empire. Most of the copper mines in the Urals were owned by the Demidoffs, whose ventures also included mining precious and semi-precious stones, silver and iron for the weapons of the Russian army, through which the dynasty accumulated considerable wealth. From the mid-18th century, workshops were established by the Demidoffs for the production of domestic utensils such as tea and coffee pots. The tea canisters and tray are most likely part of a larger tea set specially commissioned from the Demidoff Manufactory, and once formed part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection.