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Peter the Great (Chess figure – a king)


Charoit, marble, caholong, flint, moss agate, African jasper, red, green and yellow

agate, dolerite, moonstone, morion, smoky rock crystal, green and milky nephrite,

phianites; Mosaics on a pedestal in the form of a coat of arms – tiger eye, lazurite,

jasper, caholong, falcon eye, agate; the Order of St. Andrew, the “First-called ”

Apostle (inscription: “For faith and fidelity”) – Breast badge with the imperial

double-headed eagle – amethysts, citrines, enamel, gilding.

Height- 31 sm Weight - 2,5 kg  








Ural stone-cutting workshop in honour of Ilya Borovokov has implemented a unique project “Imperial chess”. There are two armies represented by the chess figures: the Russian Army of Peter the Great accompanied by Tsarina Catherine, field marshals A. Menshikov and B. Sheremetyev on one side, and the Swedish Army of Carl XII accompanied by Queen Eleonora, field marshal Rainshield and general Shlippenbah on the other side. Portrait resemblance, historically true costumes and arms and even the characters’ psychological traits are reproduced with astonishing skill.

The project “Imperial chess” was carried out in a big way which is quite unusual for the genre of stone miniature. It makes us think of the peculiarities of various minerals’ implementation in three-dimensional mosaics.  In sculpture miniature not only is the way of  implementation of this or that stone based on a number of technological and esthetic reasons, it depends  on the attitude to stone of a specific regional stone-cutting school as well.

We have already mentioned on several occasions that the major Russian centers of stone-cutting plastic art of Saint Petersburg and Ekaterinburg are tied not only by almost three centuries of work with stone but also by the common provision of the Russian elite with various precious symbols. It is well known that the lapidary factories of Petergof and Ekaterinburg  have worked for a long time to direct orders of His Majesty the Emperor.  It is also known that some of the stone-cut miniatures that were sold in the empire’s capital under the trade mark of the court jeweler Carl Faberge had been made in fact by Ural stone-cutters. Some details of Faberge’s cooperation with the Ural stone-cutters have been revealed. There are also other facts known of close historic relations of the stone-cutting schools of Saint Petersburg and Ekaterinburg.

 However it is the historically formed specific character of the Ural attitude to stone that deserves special attention. In the culture of Saint Petersburg stone has always been a sacral myth, a monolith, a symbol of support for any important work among the bogs and water, whereas Ural perception of stone is totally different. It has grown under conditions of geological environment, of Ural mountainous scenery. Ural attitude to stone is historic worship of its natural diversity, wealth of its geological palette, concentration of all this wealth in one geographical place and, of course, of its rigidity and eternal resistance of the surrounding stone material.

This fundamental distinction in the perception of stone has been preserved till nowadays as a difference of two esthetic traditions. St. Petersburg school of stone-cutting craft has always demonstrated absolute mastering of stone monolith, total power over a piece of mineral. St. Peterburg ideal stone-cutting work is a completely resigned and entirely conquered stone, a plastic monolith which has irreversibly turned into a sculptural image. Ural ideal stone-cut work is much less categorical and warlike. Symbolically speaking, Ural stone-cutter leaves stone alive. In a Ural stone-cut miniature stone always preserves a part of its natural virginity, visual signs of its belonging to the geological history of the Earth.

In the contemporary project “Imperial chess” the queens’ statuettes may be a good illustration of importance of stone’s natural characteristics used as an expressive means in the image’s creation. The dresses of Catherine and Eleonora impress in the first place not by the plastic art of the sculptural modelling (which would undoubtedly be of priority for St. Petersburg school) but by the virtuosic stone selection, skillful adjustment of its colours, of its natural patterns, of its optic and textural characteristics to the most complex creative tasks.

The contrast of charoit’s colours and texture with soft milky-whitish green of light jadeite in the skirt and costume of Eleonora hypnotizes by its combination of singularity and a bit chilly northern harmony. This Swedish coldness is opposed to the full-blooded costume of the Russian sovereign. Optical profoundness and juiciness of pink quartz in the skirt of Catherine as though concentrate vital energy which is so necessary for the forthcoming victory. Visual density of the avanturine corset, drapery of the agate sleeves of the dress and lightness of gorgeous made out of dark striped agate semitransparent pelerine, trimmed with fur marten, skillfully made out of moss agate, - all this makes an impression of an orgy of minerals, peculiar carnival of stones assembled to show a festival of vital energy taken from the bowels of the planet.

In contrast to the cheerful life-asserting perception of Catherine’s costume, Eleonora’s dress bears the feeling of dramatic sickly melancholy. Amethyst laces of the sleeves, agate of the fan, sapphirine of the mantlet together make a dainty colouring of divined grief. Even the queen’s hair is pale with an unusual for cornelian paleness. This is an orgy of stone as well but with an opposite sign – a sign of inevitable defeat.

Despite general simplicity of the characters’ sculptural plastic art the workshop’s stone-cutters have coped well with the image-bearing task. They managed to use the expressive potential of stone with maximum effectiveness, discovering in the mineral palette exceptional colours and their combinations. They demonstrated such an exceptional skill in revealing the natural beauty of all the geological creations. Colours and patterns of stone, its texture and optics, engraved in it memory of epochal geological cataclysms – all this has been turned by the Ural craftsmen into accurate splendid colours of the created images.  

Although it is assumed that the result of the game of chess metaphorically played in the grandiose project of Borovikov’s workshop is historically known, the two armies’ (and the two queens’) confrontation will never come to an end for a collector, an art critic,  a gallery holder, an auctioneer and especially for an ordinary spectator.  It will go on forever in the vivid forms of stone miniature speaking about the distinctive art of the Ural stone-cutters.

If Carl Faberge having gone to a better world long ago could witness the Ural stone-cutters reviving a century later the progressing in his times and with his help genre of stone miniature  (“human statuettes” as he called them himself), he would be moved to the core.                 It is wonderful that stone is linking nowadays the broken course of time, memory and human skills                                                        .



Based on the materials of PLATINUM journal