Russian Vases

As another large part of my research is based on Russian Prisons and more specifically, the secret system of tattoos within (which I will write a post on soon), I have begun to look at traditional Russian pottery. I think it’ll be useful to know this so when I am possibly creating my own ceramics, I’ll be able to incorporate an extra bit of culture within my work.

I’m going to focus on a Russian style of pottery known as ‘Gzhel’, the name of which comes from the village of Gzhel and surrounding areas, where it has been produced since 1802. However, the name Gzhel became associated with pottery in the 14th century when pottery was originally created by potters in their homes who later began to organise into workshops to increase production. These workshops then eventually became a factory with pieces being formed in moulds and the potters were responsible for separate pieces, decoration or specific styles. The earliest pieces were created with earthenware, then painted solid white with beautiful blue designs.


The late 19th and the early 20th became the period of deep crisis for Gzhel arts and crafts. It seemed to have died forever. However, the post-war time saw the revival of this handicraft and search for its new imagery and figured language. It took years of laborious task and upbringing of new masters. It came to be a success after all. In 1972 the Gzhel Association was established on the basis of six minor manufactures located in several villages. Creative teams developed new samples. Absolutely new forms of items were created. The painting became richer and more up-to-date artistically.

Today the Gzhel Association is a modern enterprise, consisting of 6 factories with the overall staff of about 1500 highly skilled specialists: artists, sculptors and technologists. They produce Gzhel vases, statuettes, toys, interior items, such as fireplaces, and chandeliers, and other chinaware. Products of Gzhel are in steady demand in the Russian market and abroad.

I find this style of pottery really beautiful, I’m not sure if it’s because of how simple the colour scheme is, but the blue that they use mixed with a really nice glazed white surface is just an amazing combination. The nice pottery my grandparents kept untouched in the cabinets of the dining room was Gzhel but now I understand the fragility of such work and why we never ate off them despite how much I whined about it.

Gzel Blue (1)

I also came across ‘Imperial Porcelain’ which I find absolutely stunning, the amount of time and effort that goes into the elaborate gold patterns along the walls really pays off. Every piece I have seen has been beautiful, although I found it strange to see the artwork they put on them. This is because I’d expect to see that sort of art on a painting canvas, rather than a vase, but the result is still great to see.


Founded in 1744, the first porcelain manufactory in Russia was created by order of Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, to “serve native trade and native art”. The factory produced wares exclusively for the ruling Romanov family and the Russian Imperial court.


Attempts to reveal the secret of hard paste true porcelain-making had expanded to Russia since the visit of Peter the Great to Saxony in 1718; there, he saw Meissen porcelain at the Dresden court. A talented mining engineer Dmitry Ivanovich Vinogradov, who studied metallurgy at Freiberg, Saxony, invented the formula for the Russian porcelain works established in 1744.

The Russian porcelain by Vinogradov had qualities similar to the Saxon porcelain, while its formula which consisted of only Russian ingredients, took its style from Chinese porcelain. At the beginning of the Vinogradov period the motifs were monochrome and simplified; by the end of this period the fine miniatures were completed on porcelain. Gold leaf for gilding porcelain was prepared from golden coins from the Imperial Treasury.





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