Gilt silver; Ewer (.133) H. 14 1/2 in. (36.8 cm), Wt. 102 oz., 17 dwt.; Basin (.134) Diam. 27 in. (68.6 cm), Wt. 264 oz.
Ewer marked by Samuel Margas, Jr. (active 171433); basin unmarked
Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1968 (68.141.133,.134)
Empress Catherine I (16841727), born a Lithuanian peasant named Marta Skowronska, succeeded her husband, Peter the Great, after his death in 1725. She did not share his simplicity of habits and, strongly influenced by her splendor-loving favorite Prince Alexander Menshikov, she restored the former luxury of the imperial household. Princely magnificence embodied by an ostentatious court life in the western European manner reassured the new empress and her entourage of their impeccable social status.
This ewer and basin (both inscribed underneath in Cyrillic "English No. 1; English No. 2") belonged to the flamboyant golden "English Service" ordered by Catherine I about 1726. An inventory of the imperial silver stores of 1759 recorded: "Silver services/English service received in 1726, on the 21st day of September, from the Main Palace Chancellory: Gilt-silver vessels/1 Lavabo with plate." It is tempting to suggest that this entry refers to the ewer and basin. The plaques with the Russian double-eagle were added later to unify the service, made when uniformity was not considered essential and large services frequently reflected the varied styles of different workshops or were simply assembled in a short period of time. By the 1920s, only fourteen pieces of the "English Service" remained in the Hermitage, among them this "finger-bowl with a ewer by Samuel Margas." In 193233, seven pieces were sold abroad by the Soviet foreign trading organization Antikvariat. For more than seventy years, the whereabouts of this rare lavabo set from one of the most important imperial Russian silver ensembles was unknown; recent research identified a ewer and basin in the collection of Judge Irwin Untermyer with the long-lost treasure.