When the current owner's parents acquired the piece around 1970, the seller informed them that, by tradition, the piece had belonged to Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich (1856-1929), Nicholas II's imposing uncle and a member of the Supreme Command of Russian forces during World War I. It seems a likely purchase for the Grand Duke, who is known to have favored carved hardstones. Indeed, H.C. Bainbridge, in his history of the firm, recalled a 1937 conversation with Agathon Fabergé in which Fabergé credited the Grand Duke with the idea of the hardstone statuettes that eventually grew into the complex, multicolored figures of Cossacks, peasants and carpenters. According to Agathon Fabergé, the Grand Duke commissioned a friendly caricature of Queen Victoria in jadeite in the 1890s that was considered the “mother” of the later figures (H.C. Bainbridge, Peter Carl Fabergé: Goldsmith & Jeweller to the Russian Imperial Court & Principal Crowned Heads of Europe, London, 1949, p. 111). Apparently, the seal was among his possessions when Grand Duke Nikolai and his family escaped Russia aboard the H.M.S. Marlborough in 1919. He and his wife, Princess Anastasia of Montenegro (1868-1935) were given shelter by her brother-in-law, King Vittorio Emanuel III of Italy (1869-1947), from 1919 to 1922. It is thought that the grand duke presented the seal to the king in grateful appreciation for offering he and his family shelter in Italy. The king was also a great collector and the Renaissance-inspired seal would certainly have been an appropriate gift.
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