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Vasili Semenov (active 1865-90)

Beaker 1879

RCIN 46609

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A silver beaker on three ball feet, of heavy gauge metal, the rim marked with an inscription on a matted ground. Nielloed body with scrolls, foliage and small flowers and reserves with scrolls on a matted ground.

The technique of using niello on silver was known in parts of southern Russia from the 10th century, when it was practised in Kiev. The technique was likely to have derived from Byzantium and consisted of creating an alloy of sulphur and other metals to create a black substance which could then be rubbed into an engraved silver surface to create a dark background to the design and give it greater definition. By the twelfth century the technique had spread to the more northern areas of Russia although it grew slowly. In the 1660s Turkish silversmiths from Constantinople travelled to the workshops of the Kremlin armoury to teach niello techniques to the Russians and by the end of the 17th century it had become part of a distinctive national style, although it was mainly practised in Moscow rather than St Petersburg which sought out more western techniques. Some of the patterns traditionally used with niello were derived from Islamic patterns – scrolling vine tendrils being a common motif.
Struck with city mark of Moscow (1879), assayer's mark of Ivan Alexeyev (active 1876-1912), fineness mark (84 zolotniki), and maker's mark of Vasili Semyonov; engraved on base with A monogram; the rim with an applied inscription in Russian, 'A fine silver cup with which to toast good health'.