marks rubbed but probably Hanau, circa 1820
rectangular, the lid inset with an oval miniature, in the manner of Molinary, of Alexander I, Emperor of all the Russias (1777-1825), wearing uniform and the sash of the Order of St Andrew, within a blue enamel frame, the corners applied with chased shells and trailing seaweed on a sablé ground, within leafy scroll borders, the base chased with an eagle garlanded by figures symbolic of Fame within acanthus, the sides with masks and further foliate scrolls, all on a finely matted ground within narrow blue enamel borders
The future Emperor Alexander I was taken from his father, the future Paul I, by his grandmother, Catherine the Great, shortly after his birth, such was her disdain for her son and heir that she feared his influence on his successor. Reared in her free-thinking court, Alexander adopted the humanist principles of the Enlightenment and was sympathetic to reform, views which remained tempered with the autocratic and militaristic Russian tradition throughout his life. He married Princess Louise of Baden, who took the name Elisabeth Alexeyevna, in 1793, when he was sixteen and she fourteen years of age.
Coming to the throne in 1801 following the murder of his father, Alexander ruled Russia during the tumultuous years of the Napoleonic Wars. Initially an admirer of Napoleon, the Tsar was later persuaded by reports of his character that he was in fact "the most famous tyrant the world has produced". He was defeated by Napoleon at Austerlitz in 1805 and again at Eylau and Friedland in 1807, followed by an alliance with France that was shattered by Bonaparte's invasion in 1812. The following year, Russia and Prussia defeated the French at Leipzig. Alexander's reign was also marked by the completion of the conquest of Finland from Sweden, at which point he adopted the title Grand Duke of Finland. He was succeeded by his brother, Nicholas I, at his death in 1825.
Born in Berlin, the miniaturist Alexander Molinary (1772-1831) worked in Vienna, Rome, Weimar, Dresden and, from 1805 to 1816, at the Court of St Petersburg. For examples of this portrait, attributed to Molinary and dated circa 1805, see Sotheby's London, 14 December 1995, lot 80, and Sotheby's London, 19 December 1996, lot 62. This image is one of the most iconic of Alexander, along with George Dawe's portrait of him and the equestrian portrait by Franz Kruger, both in the Winter Palace.
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