The gift of a jewelled portrait of the sovereign was the most prestigious award that could be bestowed in a court; in Imperial Russia, the jewelled presentation table portrait (nastolnyi portret
) was the rarest of all imperial gifts. According to research by Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, jewelled table portraits were awarded to only nine Russians and ten foreigners during the reign of Nicholas II. The majesty of the reward was intended to match the status of the recipient and table portraits were restricted to only the most senior of court officials or foreign dignitaries. Tillander-Godenhielm suggests that table portraits were almost always reserved for those figures of such seniority that they had already received numerous orders and another still more splendid gift had to be found to mark an anniversary or achievement.
Court documents indicate that this presentation table portrait was first mentioned in June 1909, when the Head of the Chancellery of His Majesty’s Cabinet requested permission to use three jewel-quality nephrite plaques cut at the Peterhof Lapidary Manufactory and placed in the Cabinet’s stores as the basis for three table portraits. The nephrite plaques had originally been purchased with the intention of making panagias or crosses for higher clergy serving at the 1896 Coronation festivities, but had not been needed. The task of designing and creating the unique table portraits was given to the court jeweler Fabergé. On July 1, 1909, the firm presented the Cabinet with a bill (fig. 1) noting that a frame (ramka
) with inventory number 2194 had been mounted with 92 diamonds costing 1,086 rubles and that the frame should now be valued at 1,766 rubles. (The other two were valued a bit less at 1,608 and 1,584 rubles respectively.) At the same time, Cabinet officials assigned their own, internal inventory number of 28, which appears in red on Faberge’s invoice just below the firm’s inventory number (see the illustration on the preceding page). The Cabinet’s inventory number is as important as that of the firm, because the Cabinet’s inventory system indicates that in March 1913, the table portrait was given to the firm of Carl Blank to be mounted with one of several miniature portraits of the Emperor by Vasilii Zuev.
Valentin Skurlov has shown that His Majesty's Cabinet kept detailed lists indicating which miniature was combined with a given jewelled frame. According to court records (fig. 2), the frame numbered 28 was mounted with a miniature valued at 200 rubles and was reassigned the new inventory number, 39. There seems to have been some confusion as to which miniature was used; one entry in the Cabinet’s records indicates miniature 311 and another miniature 331. The small piece of paper placed beneath the mammoth ivory miniature of the offered lot is numbered 319. All three are described as miniatures of the Emperor in the inventory and it seems that there might have been some confusion or simply a misplaced number. Whatever the case, the jewelled table portrait created by Fabergé, mounted by Blank and now valued at 1,966 rubles was presented shortly thereafter to Isfandiyar Jurji Bahadur (1871-1918), the Khan of Khiva (fig. 3). The Khan was a logical recipient for a table portrait; he already help number orders and awards and his continuing support for the Russian Imperial government was essential to maintaining the stability of Russia’s southern borders as the world situation became increasingly chaotic. When the Khan died in 1918, in the midst of both Revolution and Civil War, the jewelled table portrait briefly disappeared into the whirlwind before reemerging on the international art market. On the table portraits, see V. Skurlov, "Nastolnye medalony," Antikvarnoe obozrenie
2003, no.1, pp. 32-34 and Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, The Russian Imperial Award System, 1894-1917,
Helsinki, 2005, pp. 155-159. For other table presentation frames by Fabergé, see Christie's New York, 25 October 2000, lot 510 (presented to Nasser-al-Mulk, Regent of Persia, in 1914) and Sotheby's Zurich, 23 November 1978, lot 136. For a table portrait by Bolin, see Sotheby's London, 1 December 2005, lot 347.
We are grateful to Svetlana Chestnykh for assistance in researching this lot.
Fig. 1 The invoice from Fabergé for this frame from Cabinet records about purchases from jewellers in 1909, courtesy of Svetlana Chestnykh
Fig. 2 Cabinet records indicating the offered lot was set with a miniature and given to the Khan of Khiva, courtesy of Svetlana Chestnykh
Fig. 3 Isfandar Jurji Bahadur (1871-1918), Khan of Khiva, circa 1913