Property from a Private American Collection of Historic Jewels
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.
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