Libmonster ID: BY-1540
Author(s) of the publication: Olga PROTOPOPOVA

by Olga PROTOPOPOVA, journalist

Late in 2009 the Moscow-based "Battle of Borodino" Panorama Museum held an exhibition displaying works of "Anna Nova", the St. Petersburg jewelry house. Its "Chess. Anno 1812"– a set of chessmen and fancy fixings-was the centerpiece of that exposition on the forthcoming bicentennial of Russia's victory over Napoleonic France.

Petersburg, known in this country also as Palmyra of the North (after the famous ancient city of Palmyra in Syria), is one of the world's capitals of the jewelry industry. All the way back in 1725 Emperor Peter the Great founded a lapidary and stone-cutting works at Peterhof, a palatial suburb south of St. Petersburg. That was this country's first fiscal, government enterprise involved in colored stone cutting and turning out only exclusive products. The handiwork of its masters–made of jasper, marble, Ural malachite and Siberian nephrite-embellish the Hermitage Museum (formerly, the Winter Palace of Russian czars) as well as H.M. palaces located outside St. Petersburg, and many other museums abroad.

The Russian school of jewelry reached a new high level thanks to the art of virtuoso masters working for the St. Petersburg firm of Fabergé (founded in 1842, and catering to H.M. court as of 1895), above all Pyotr Kremlev, Franz   Bierbaum,   and   expert   stone-cutters  Alexei

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Denisov-Uralski, Pyotr Derbyshev, among others. A great many masterpieces wrought there were being collected by Russian and foreign reigning dynasties. Thus, Empress Maria Feodorovna, married to Czar Alexander III and mother to Nikolai (Nicholas) II, the last Russian czar, collected more than 100 figurines of wild and domestic animals, fishes and insects made of Ural, Siberian and Altai semiprecious stones; Czarine Alexandra Feodorovna, Nikolai's spouse, was fond of elegant floral displays made of precious stones fashioned as nosegays of lilies of the valley.

"Anna Nova" is carrying on the venerable traditions of Russian jewelry magicians, as we can see it in the one-of-a-kind set of choice items and its gem, showing a parade of miniature sculptural chessmen portraying generals and soldiers-the Chess. Anno 1812 composition that comprises a table, two chairs, the chessmen proper and a case for them. The furniture pieces are made of maple and coated with black varnish; the chessboard of sixty-four squares and pedestals for the warlords are of nephrite so much in favor with Charles Fabergé.

The opening moves, or gambits, are made by the white chessmen representing the French. The first one, by Napoleon whose Grand Armée crossed into Russia at Kovno on the Neman. The French commanders are depicted on white-nephrite pedestals, and ours–on black. The French king and queen are Napoleon Bonaparte and Marshal Luis Davout; the bishops, or officers-General Eugène Beauharnais and Michel Ney; the knights, or cavalry–Marshals Joachim Murat and Prince Jusef Poniatowski; the rooks (castles) standing for artillery are represented by Gen. Jean Lariboisière and Marshal Adolph Mortier; and the pawns image Old Guard grenadiers (crack, battle-seasoned Napoleonic veterans).

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The black chessmen represent the Russians: Emperor Alexander I and Field Marshal Prince Mikhail Gole-nishchev-Kutuzov; Generals Pyotr Bagration and Michael Barclay de Tolli, who were the first to engage the enemy in June 1812 and who played a very important role in the Battle of Borodino in August; the Ataman (chief) of the Don Cossacks Matvei Platov, and St. Petersburg's savior Peter Witgensein, the man who barred the enemy from the then Russian capital, St. Petersburg... Furthermore, Alexander Kutaisov, the 27-year-old artillery commander killed at Borodino, and Gen. Alexei Yermolov, who replaced him as Russian artillery commander; and last, the guardsmen of the Izmailovo Regiment. The soldiers of the two confronting armies are in the full-dress uniform and battle trim, with the flutists and drummers in the middle, one of them a young kid.

Each chessman, about 5-6 inches (12-14 cm) tall, is composed of dozens of parts; most of the metal elements wrought by fine (art) casting, with the more massive parts of silver nielloed subsequently. The heads and hands are cast of gold; arms, decorations, some of the outfit and full-dress coats are adorned with precious metals and stones: particolored sapphires, rubies and diamonds. The black pawns (Russian private soldiers) wear knapsacks of imitation leather black obsidian (volcanic glass); the whites (French)–those of "calico" striped jasper; the rolled greatcoats are of lazurite. The status of the chessmen and their fighting arms are indicated by gold laps (plates) on the pedestals (for instance, the crossed cannon and swords stand for artillery and cavalry, respectively). The monograms of both emperors, Alexander and Napoleon, are placed on both sides of the

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plates, entwined by laurels below and diamond-studded gold ribbons above.

These miniature sculptures, the real masterpieces of the art of jewelry, are amazingly exact and true to life. The chessmen's swords can be unsheathed and sheathed again, and the pistols look real, too, you can pull at their triggers. The full-dress coats are lavish in their embroidery and gold chains of aiguillettes... True, you need a looking glass to read the mottoes on the orders and to make out the design on the map held by the Russian Emperor... Now recall the pascal (Easter) eggs of Fabergé that have lots of things within, such as tiny yachts and cruisers in full trim, palaces with flower beds, and their rich floral display... We might just as well add that each chessman shows astounding similarity to the prototype and his character makeup. The protagonists of the 1812 war-the two grand armées poised against each other-come alive.

For nearly four years, from 2006 on, as many as forty masters–jewelers, stone-cutters, designers and engravers–had been working on this unique chessboard with the use of most up-to-date techniques. They had to trim and polish each element (more than 150!). Every piece is inimitable thanks to the dazzling color gamut of precious and semiprecious stones, they cannot be copied!

Guests-laymen and experts alike–had a good chance to see for themselves. This wonderwork goes to show that the traditions of Russian jewelry and stone cutting are much alive in our day and age, too.


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Olga PROTOPOPOVA, TWO ARMIES ON A CHESSBOARD // Minsk: Belarusian Electronic Library (BIBLIOTEKA.BY). Updated: 01.09.2021. URL: (date of access: 09.12.2022).

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