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PRINCE GRIGORY POTEMKIN

Prince Grigory Potemkin: An emerald intaglio brooch/pendant, circa 1785-1790
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79

PRINCE GRIGORY POTEMKIN

Prince Grigory Potemkin: An emerald intaglio brooch/pendant, circa 1785-1790
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

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Prince Grigory Potemkin: An emerald intaglio brooch/pendant, circa 1785-1790
centred with an emerald carved with a profile portrait bust of Prince Grigory Potemkin in a gold collet, the border of circular-cut diamonds in a silver mount, the gold back with swirling reeds, pin and pendant loop, apparently unmarked
26 by 23 mm
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Provenance

Prince Grigory Potemkin (1739-1791), by whom almost certainly given to Empress Catherine II (1729-1796)

Property from a Private American Collection of Historic Jewels

Catalogue Note

The present lot was almost certainly a gift from Prince Grigory Potemkin to his lover – and possibly wife – Catherine the Great, who had a passion for carved and engraved gems and would have been delighted to receive it.  Their intimate relationship began in 1774, following his help with the 1762 coup which placed her on the throne and his military successes in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774.  Although the intense passion of the beginning of their affair was short-lived, they remained close until his death in 1791.  The question of whether they secretly married has never been resolved, but many letters written by the Empress after 1784 suggest that he was her husband, and he continued to rise in stature throughout the course of their relationship.

The Empress collected both Ancient glyptic gems and those produced during the late 18th century revival of this art, which her interest greatly encouraged.  She admitted in letters to her agent Baron Grimm that her fervour for these objects was a kind of ‘gluttony’ or ‘illness’.  Her prodigious acquisitions formed the core of the Hermitage’s collection, estimated at more than 10,000 gems today.  She gave an emerald intaglio, carved by her Court medallist Johann Caspar Jaeger with a profile image of her, to Count Grigory Orlov, one of Potemkin’s predecessors as favourite (illustrated, Diana Scarisbrick, Portrait Jewels: Opulence and Intimacy from the Medici to the Romanovs, London, 2011, fig. 184, p. 175).  The present lot appears to date from after Jaeger stopped working in 1780 and is therefore unlikely to have been carved by him.  The Prince appears to be approaching the same age and weight as in the well-known c. 1790 portrait of him by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder, suggesting 1785-1790 as a possible date.  Notably, the Prince does not appear in the present lot in full court dress or military uniform but rather casual day wear, signifying the very personal nature of the gem. 

Another emerald intaglio caved with an image of the Empress is in the Diamond Fund of the Kremlin Armoury, Moscow.  The scarcity of intaglios of this stone is accounted for by the difficulty in carving it, the most friable of all precious gems, without shattering.  Sotheby's is grateful to Ms Margaret Kelly Trombley for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.  

Treasures

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