Steelwork

Furniture and various objects made of an unusual material - steel - are remarkable even in the splendid interiors of the Palace. These superb works were produced by Tula gunsmiths. Peter the Great founded in Tula large arms works, and many excellent masters who worked there, used to make all kinds of fine arms in their spare time at home: pistols, fowling pieces, swords with exquisitely ornamented hilts and other individually commissioned arms with especially rich decoration, such as gold and silver damascening. In this situation, an idea to use steel for making elegant objects of everyday use naturally emerged. The Pavlovsk Palace is furnished with unique steel work-tables, toilet sets of many pieces, foot-stools, chandeliers and perfume-vases. The first acquisitions for the Palace, made in 1786, when it was still under construction, included a steel twelve-light chandelier decorated with gold damascening.

In 1789, a toilet set by the Tula smiths, which comprised twelve objects - a table with an elegant mirror and powder-vases, a chair, a foot-stool and a number of minor articles - was acquired for the Palace. All the pieces are fashioned of steel and decorated with ormolu, silver damascening and so-called "steel diamonds" - thousands of tiny steel drops elaborately wrought and faceted like diamonds. The glistening steel "gems" form a rich, vivid ornament. This toilet set, a masterpiece of steelwork, was created by the Tula craftsman Samarin and bought by Catherine II at an annual fair in Tsarskoye Selo and was presented to the heir's wife.

The Palace has another, no less perfect steel toilet made by a group of craftsmen from the Society of Tula Gunsmiths. It was presented to Catherine II during her visit to the Tula Arms Works in 1787. The large table, mirror, vases and obelisks are distinguished for their faultless proportions. The perfectly polished steel is decorated with garlands and inlaid with vari-coloured gold of high standard. A superb finish of this unusual piece of the smith's art would bring renown to any jeweller. Outstanding quality marks also a work-table with a foot-stool and candlesticks produced by the gunsmiths in 1801. These objects were made of more than ten thousands forged elements forming a fine openwork pattern enhanced by bronze ornaments, gold damascening and blueing. All kinds of artistic techniques developed for the treatment of metal, were used by the Tula smiths in the decoration of these unique pieces now preserved in the Pavlovsk Palace collection.

In addition to numerous examples of fine steel furniture in Russian museums, no less beautiful objects from Tula can be seen in the museums of Potsdam and London. These pieces came to the West as gifts in the early nineteenth century. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, houses, besides a splendid armchair made at Tula, a steel mantel-piece unparalleled as regards its elaboration and beauty.

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