During the 19th century, tea in Russia was often served in glass vessels. The ‘podstakannik ‘ (metal holder) would have contained the ‘stakan ‘ (tea-glass) to insulate the heat emanating from the tea. This tea glass holder bears the mark of Vasily Agafonov (Василий Семенович Агафонов) and was made between 1899 and 1908 in Moscow. The intricate foliate decoration framed by borders of blue and white beads is characteristic of this prominent workshop.
Whereas the court in St Petersburg mostly preferred designs influenced by European trends, Moscow based silversmiths looked to the art of Russia’s past for inspiration in what has been termed the ‘Pan Slavic Revival’. This piece is decorated with cloisonné enamels, a method of applying enamel to an object within the spaces created by a wire framework – a technique that was considered particularly traditional. Objects such as these were often presented to foreign dignitaries as pieces that celebrated Russia’s artistic heritage. An elaborate standing cup and cover also marked Vassily Agafonov in the Khalili Collections was given to Sir Edward Henry, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, by the Empress Dowager, Maria of Russia in 1907 as a ‘souvenir of Her Majesty’s visit to England’.