Cameo Service Catherine the-great hermitage masterpieces ice cream cooler

Hermitage masterpieces | royal ice-cream | from Russia with love

Sexy and glamorous. Red carpet ready. Did someone say 'rescue fantasy'?

Just what every blue-blooded ice-cream lover needs this summer…

The “Cameo Service” made by the Sèvres Porcelain Factory in France in the late 18th century for Catherine the Great, is one of the grandest and most expensive dinner services ever made. It comprises more than 700 pieces (taking care of dinner, dessert and coffee, including a very divine ice-cream cooler that came with a set of seven  ice-cream cups), took three years to complete, and was the first service to be decorated in the newly fashionable Neo-Classical style, which required the making of customised designs and moulds, none of which was ever re-used.

Commissioned as a gift for Prince Grigory Potemkin in 1777 (a close and loyal friend with whom she had had a passionate but short-lived romance), the service was named for the unique carved and painted imitation cameos that adorned each piece. It was made from a “soft-paste” porcelain which was better suited to the decoration required. The Russian Empress requested that the ground colour used for the service be sky blue with a hint of turquoise.

The project required 37 painters; five gilders and numerous modellers and firing masters (a fair swag of the Sèvres factory’s 69 employees). Three or four firings were required to apply the two to three layers of enamel containing copper which seeped into the porous surface of the porcelain.

The “Cameo Service” is part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s dazzling exhibition, Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great, one of the world’s greatest art collections, thanks to Catherine II’s “almost hyperactive acquisition policies” during her 34-year reign (1762-96).

Some 114,000 people have visited the exhibition since it opened in July. There’s not much time left to see it. On until November 8 at Melbourne’s NGV, it is a treasure trove of so many things: cameo engravings; French, Flemish and Dutch painting; contemporary and British painting; western European drawings; architectural drawings; and Chinoiserie. Rembrandt, Rubens, Velazquez, Van Dyck …? Of course.

The grateful prince, who went on to become an Adjutant-General, and Count of the Russian Empire, gave the empress an angora cat in thanks. She was said to have been absolutely delighted.

Photos: Brooke Holm; courtesy Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great



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