For more than 150 years the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, produced hand-painted ceramic treasures for Russian nobility and diplomatic gifts. More than 140 of these ornately decorated pieces are showcased in a new exhibition at the Museum of Russian Art. Gilded plates, platters featuring battle scenes, lavishly ornamented soup bowls and even ceramic eggs carried histories in miniature of the empire of the tsars. The factory, which operated under royal patronage from 1744 to 1917, vied for artistic superiority with similar institutions in France, Denmark and the German principalities of the era. At a time when artistic patronage was evidence of royal power, the tsars wielded immense influence over international taste and style, as this unusual show demonstrates. (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., 1-5 p.m. Sun. through Aug 7. The Museum of Russian Art, 5500 Stevens Av. S., Mpls. $7 adults. 612-821-9045 or