44.781 Russian enamel kovsh (1908-1917)
Pavel Ovchinnikov (Russian, 1830-1888)
Silver alloy, gilt, enamel, amethysts
H: 4 1/2" W: 6 3/8 D: 13/16"
Collection of The Walters Art Museum
This exquisite object is a Russian-made gilt-silver and filigree enamel kovsh, a traditional boat-shaped cup with handle form used in Russian decorative arts. The three-piece form takes the shape of a bird, where the body of the bird is the oval, boat-shaped bowl. Enamel production and design in late 19th century Russia was impacted by the Russian Revival; a movement away from Western design styles, which were practiced more in St. Petersburg. The resulting Revival style, practiced more in Moscow, was an amalgam of Turkish, Persian, and Western styles, and is generally recognized today as Russian. This kovsh is attributed to the Moscow firm of Pavel Ovchinnikov, one of the most important enamel artists working in Moscow during the mid- to late-19th century. The inscription on the bottom of the piece indicates that this piece was presented to Jans Schron, a Danish medical doctor, by Empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of Alexander III.
Much of the gilding has worn away from the silver substrate, likely from repeated polishing, and the metal surfaces exhibited moderate to heavy tarnish. It was imperative to use gentle methods to reduce the tarnish and brighten the surface, which would be more in keeping with the original appearance. It was decided that appropriate methods were gentle abrasion via cosmetic sponges lubricated with Shellsol D38, and chemical removal via acidified thiourea gelled with xanthan gum.
The filigree wirework was gently polished using small, pre-cut squares of cosmetic sponges wetted with Shellsol D38 held with plastic tweezers to prevent harsh abrasion to the surface. This treatment was effective, producing a startling affect to the piece after treatment. Once treatment began the kovsh was kept wrapped in acid-free tissue and Pacific Silvercloth, and kept in a Ziploc bag to prevent the newly cleaned surface from re-tarnishing. All dirtied sponges were retained and left so the Shellsol D38 could volatilize. XRF analysis revealed that when compared to the spectrum of a clean sponge, the dirty sponge contained trace amounts of gold. This indicates that while cosmetic sponges effectively remove tarnish, they still remove a small amount of gold from a gilt surface.