Thursday, 13 January 2011

People from the past: Iver Winfeldt Buch, Norwegian court jeweller in St Petersburg

This week is the last chance to see the Norwegian National Museum’s exhibition “Sacral Treasures from the Kremlin Museums in Moscow”, which blends the Norwegian museum’s unusual collection of Russian icons with loans from the Kremlin, such as further icons, priestly vestments and precious items used during the liturgy in the imperial cathedrals.
While the many Swedes who left their mark on St Petersburg are fairly well-known, this exhibition reminds us of one the less well-known Norwegians who were also active in the capital of imperial Russia.
Included in the exhibition are two items made by the court jeweller Iver Winfeldt Buch (1749-1811). The picture above (a press photo copyright of the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design) shows one of them, a golden chalice set with 435 diamonds and three gems showing the birth of Jesus, the baptism of Jesus and the removal of the Virgin Mary’s house to Loreto – possibly from Ekaterina II’s own collection of gems. The chalice was commissioned by the Empress in 1795 and presented to the Monastery of St Sergey.
Iver Winfeldt Buch was born in Drammen in 1749. He came to St Petersburg in 1770 and was received into the guild of foreign gold and silver smiths in 1776. According to a family legend related by his relative Ada Polak, a renowned Norwegian art historian who died in London last autumn at the age of 96, Buch first worked for a court jeweller who was exiled to Siberia after he had exchanged one of the largest diamonds in an imperial tiara with an imitation while he was repairing it.
Buch is said to have taken over his workshop and eventually came to own one of the largest such stores in the Russian capital. He was appointed court jeweller to Ekaterina II and later to Pavel I.
Prince Potemkin was also among his customers and following Potemkin’s death Empress Ekaterina II presented the Monastery of St Alexander in St Petersburg with another jewelled chalice by Buch in commemoration of the Prince. In addition to liturgical items he is known to have made jewellery, silver furniture and chandeliers for the imperial palaces.
He was appointed consul for Denmark-Norway in St Petersburg and visited Norway again in 1804. He died in 1811, supposedly in poverty, having spent his fortune on his passion for long journeys.


  1. What a beautiful and fascinating article. The chalice is exquisite, and the history practically worth a book of it's own. How I enjoy your posts.

  2. Indeed, the story of Iver Winfeldt Buch might be worth a book, but I think there is a problem in that there seems to be few sources to his story in existence. There is a book (by Bengt Jangfeldt) about Swedes who made their mark on St Petersburg and although one might wish for a similar book on Norwegians, I think that would have been a rather short book. The only other Norwegian I can think of who made much of a career there was one who became an admiral of Pyotr I ("Peter the Great") and about whom a book was written some years ago.


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