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The picture of the Blockade. The story of “Cobalt Net” by Emperor’s Porcelain Factory

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he legendary “Cobalt Net” became a figurative symbol of the Leningrad Blockade. The tea set in blue-white style were first revealed in 1944 and became the face of Emperor’s Porcelain Factory. The pattern was designed by artist Anna Yatskevich in the Blockade years. Dmitriy Kopytov with more details

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  • First we draw the lines, and then these bugs are put on the spots where they intertwine.

For 40 years Valentina Samokhina has been putting the same simple drawing on cups, pots and saucers. Every day, she manually paints 80 porcelain items. The woman has not grown tired of this monotonous work. The artist proudly says – her produce now decorates tables across the world. The trademark image of the Emperor’s Porcelain Factory – the blue “Cobalt Net” – appeared on the tableware in 1944. A tea set of 5 items was painted into cold but attractive northern blue color by Leningrad artist Anna Yatskevich. Several photos of her are still on display at the factory’s museum.

Alexander Kucherov, councilor to general director of Emperor’s Porcelain Factory: “This picture was taken in 1945. She already carries two state awards – “For Defending Leningrad”, which she received in 1943, and “Red Banner Medal” which she got in the summer of 1944. I think the latter is a very high appraisal of her work”

This fragile and intelligent woman received a military medal not for her art, certainly. She spent the entire 900 days of the Blockade in Leningrad, at a factory. She refused to evacuate with her colleagues to the Urals. She spared no effort in making the Victory come sooner

Alexander Kucherov, councilor to general director of Emperor’s Porcelain Factory: “There was a mine-carrier “Svirepyi” docked at the harbor by the factory. A power cable was connected to it and it was livable. It had to be concealed though with masking. They stretched nets, took porcelain paints and hid it. It was totally concealed. Not a single shot hit the factory. It became one with Neva’s blue waters”

The horrible years were survived only thanks to the job she loved. And books. Factory’s library was not evacuated. Books, stacked in piles, stayed at snow-covered train cars. Every day Anna Yatskevich took sleds and brought books back. In 1943, after the Blockade was broken, the artistic laboratory was re-opened at the factory. A year later, the first “Cobalt Net” was made here.

Alexander Kucherov, councilor to general director of Emperor’s Porcelain Factory: “Nobody can say for sure what inspired this pattern. Might have been inspired by the windows of the besieged city – where her mother and sister lived, died in 1942 and she buried them. Or, maybe, those are intertwining paper beads”

Paper beads were used in St. Petersburg to cover windows – to keep glass intact during artillery shots. Archive footage shows – almost all buildings in the city’s center had white crosses on their windows.

Dimtriy Kopytov, reporter: “The version that the famous “Cobalt Net” was created when its mastermind reminisced the days of the Blockade is supported by one fact – the initially painted tea cups and kettles were of such grey-white color, which fits well with how Leningrad’s winter looks like”

There are other versions – but also connected with the Blockade.

Natalya Bordey, head of Emperor’s Porcelain Factory’s press service: “There is a theory that Anna Yatskevich went to the icy Neva River in the days of the Blockade and drilled holes in ice – so that the factory had water in case of fire. She was hungry, tired and saw cracks on ice which mixed with snowflakes – all this combined in her imagination and inspired the “Cobalt Net”.

The first similar net on the factory’s produce first appeared in the times of Empress Elizabeth. The pattern was created by artist Dmitriy Vinogradov. But the stripes were pink. The factory won several prestigious awards for the “Cobalt Net”. Nowadays, more than a hundred types of tableware are decorated in the blue-and-white style. Since 1970s, the whole world has learnt of this Russian ornament. Guests at the Russian Embassy in Paris are catered for with this netted porcelain. The typical blue color of Cobalt appears after the item goes through a thousand-degree oven. The first spots of gold are applied straight after. It doesn’t shine at first though.

Alexandra Gorokhova, artist at Emperor’s Porcelain Factory: “This black-ish puddle is the gold-containing substances, 12 percent gold. After it gets burned, it starts to shine. Before that it looks ordinary”

Replicating this technology is difficult, although the Chinese masters have made a few attempts. The secret is that all painting is manual. The author – Anna Yatskevich – had no heirs to her art after the war. Her niece, who also worked at the factory, died soon after her. But their art still lives on. And thousands of owners of porcelain sets with the “Cobalt Net” still consider this tableware as a symbol of Leningrad’s Victory. 

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