May 01, 2004

Lomonosov Porcelain Factory

One (possibly apocryphal) Soviet-era anecdote has it that, in 1980, Grigory Romanov, then a candidate member of the Soviet Politburo and First Secretary of Leningrad, persuaded the head of the Hermitage Museum to loan him one of the famous table services created for Catherine II by the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory, to use in his daughter’s wedding. The celebrations went awry, however, when during toasts a guest accidentally dropped a cup, smashing it on the floor. This was taken as initiation of the time-honored tradition of smashing glassware in the fireplace, and much of the Catherine service was destroyed. The party chief and namesake of the Russian imperial house survived the ignominy, and was elevated to full party membership a year later, but was ousted from the Politburo by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, for “abuse of position,” with the wanton destruction of the Catherine service rumored to be on the list of grievances.

Lomonosov porcelain has witnessed countless court intrigues. It graced Russia’s imperial dinner tables for 150 years, then became a guilty pleasure of the Soviet nomenklatura, a treasured gift for honored and foreign guests.

The enterprise known the world over as Lomonosov Porcelain Factory was founded in St. Petersburg in 1744 as “The Porcelain Factory,” by a decree of Tsarina Elizabeth, Peter the Great’s daughter. It was the first porcelain enterprise in Russia and only the third in Europe.

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