The majority of people would call porcelain as “China” because it was where the first porcelain in the world was manufactured. But, did you know that Russia is actually very popular with high quality porcelains too? A lot of people who travel there would return with a tea set or figurines made of Russia’s finest porcelain. We will talk further about two types of Russian best porcelains based on the places they are made; Lomonosov and Gzhel. What are the differences between the two and how to tell them apart? Read on.
The History of Porcelain in Russia
Porcelain is basically a kind of pottery made of white colored clay named kaolin combined with other raw materials and then heated in an insulated chamber called kiln to 1,200⁰C – 1,400⁰C of temperature. The heating process turns a substance of the materials into glass and toughens up the porcelain. When first discovered, China kept the secret of the porcelain production so tightly that the pottery was once called “white gold” because of how much it was worth. The beauty of the porcelain became very popular among the royalty and Russian czars were ones of them. Peter the Great was the first man in Russia to have an idea to establish a porcelain factory. His daughter, Empress Elizabeth, supervised the founding of the factory in 1744 together with Dmitry Ivanovich Vinogradov – a gifted mining engineer – after her father’s death. It was the beginning of the Lomonosov porcelain – the oldest porcelain factory in Russia. As for Gzhel, they only started to produce in 1802.
1. The production site
The Lomonosov Porcelain Factory is located in Saint Petersburg, on the banks of the Neva River, while Gzhel is a village situated 52 kilometers away from central Moscow. Lomonosov changed its name several times from Imperial Porcelain Factory to State Porcelain Works and back to Lomonosov. Gzhel porcelains were first made in the homes of the potters living in the village, and then they started to get organized in a workshop that turned into the Gzhel Porcelain Factory due to the increase of the production demand.
2. The market
Because the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory was founded by the tsars, their early production of porcelains were exclusively done only for the ruling Romanov family, the Russian imperial court, also political and diplomatic gifts. In contrary, the Gzhel Porcelain Factory was founded by a peasant named Ya. V. Kuznetsovym and the production have always been more widespread since the first time the potters started to make porcelains. Today, both factories provide porcelains to be sold around the world for everyone who love nice tableware and work of art.
3. The designs and colors
Both Lomonosov and Gzhel early porcelains used mainly blue and gold paints as decoration, but today one of the factories offers more options to choose. The signature of Lomonosov’s is the cobalt net pattern that is still widely sought by porcelain lovers and collectors. The other patterns include; red net, basket, golden garden, cobalt cell, church bells, bluebells, classical Petersburg, Russian lubok, red rooster, Moscow river, modern Russian, and many more. Gzhel porcelains, however, stick to the traditional colors: white and blue up to today with major incorporation of flower patterns. You can recognize the factory’s trademark from the shading and more intricate paintings on the pottery and say that Gzhel Porcelain Factory makes art through their products that people would put on display rather than items that would be practically used in daily life.
4. The items
From both Lomonosov and Gzhel Factory, you can find drinkware, tableware, and figurines in many shapes but all definitely made from high quality materials of porcelain. Lomonosov’s items appear in more modern designs that seem simpler and meant to be used daily or on special occasions. While the products from Gzhel are very thick in their traditional way, that when you look at them you can see the face of Russia. For example, both offer tea cups, but you would pour tea into a Lomonosov cup while admiring the Gzhel’s you put on the shelf.
5. The porcelain and pottery marks
To make sure that the porcelain you buy is authentic and not an imitation, you have to take a look at the bottom of the product. See if it has a certain mark that would tell you it is the original one. The Lomonosov Porcelain Factory made several changes to their mark from time to time. You can find out when the porcelain is made based on the mark. Here are the differences of Lomonosov’s mark made through times:
- The early 1920’s mark was a State Porcelain Factory mark that bears the symbol of USSR; a hammer and sickle in green ink.
- From 1920’s to 1930’s the mark said “Made in U. S. S. R.” in red ink for items meant to be shipped out.
- In the 1940’s the factory started to use their own blue Lomonosov Factory logo.
- At the beginning of 1950’s the logo was refined into a more artistic and cursive letters that becomes the one that the factory used up to 2006.
- 1986 to 1992 was the Gorbachev era when the “made in USSR” words were added under the logo and all painted in red ink.
- 1992 to 2001, the words were changed into “made in Russia” but still in red ink.
- 2002 to 2006, the words were altered again into “hand decorated – 1744 St. Petersburg Russia.” All in blue ink.
- 2006 until now, the mark bears the Imperial Porcelain symbol with 1744 Petersburg words added, all in blue ink.
The Gzhel Porcelain Factory marks also went through several changes from the signature of the potters, the name of the company, up to the contemporary symbol of the factory that looks like two-headed crowned eagle painted in gold they use from 1998 until now.
Now you know the 5 differences between Lomonosov and Gzhel porcelains and why they are important as a part of Russia’s identity as a nation.