struck only: 14 with Hanau town mark, probably C.M. Weishaupt & Söhne, mid 19th century, the rim numbered in script: No. 896
of cartouche form, the lid inset with a miniature, in the manner of Kronnowetter, of Maria Feodorovna, Empress of all the Russias (1759-1828), wearing the sash of the Order of St Andrew, with elaborate jewels in her hair and an ermine cloak over a lace-edged golden dress, the reserves applied with clusters of roses within rocaille scrollwork on a sablé ground, the bombé sides and base filled with finely-engraved flowered scrollwork
Empress Maria Fyodorovna, second wife of Emperor Paul I, was born Princess Sophia Dorothea of the junior Montbéliard branch of the ducal House of Württemberg, changing her name upon her marriage and conversion to Orthodoxy in 1776. The following year, the couple began construction of the palace at Pavlovsk, on which Maria Fyodorovna would lavish attention and money for the rest of her life. Much of the furnishings were bought in Paris on their tour of Europe in 1781-2 during which they spent prodigiously. The Baronne d'Oberkirch's memoirs recount Maria Fyodorovna's purchase of vast quantities of gold boxes and other precious objects from the marchand mercier Granchez at le Petit Dunkerque.
Paul I came to the throne on the death of his mother, Catherine the Great, in 1796 and reversed many of her acts; foreign travel and foreign books were banned. He was assassinated five years later by a clutch of conspirators who strangled him. Although her marriage had not been entirely happy, the widowed Maria Fyodorovna built up a cult of veneration for the martyred Emperor, remaining at Pavlovsk and devoting herself to philanthropic work until her death in 1828. The couple left seven children, including the future emperors, Alexander I and Nicholas I.
For comparison, see Sotheby's London, 1 June 2006, lot 37, a St Petersburg gold box with a miniature, attributed to Carl Kronnowetter (1795-1837), of Maria Fyodorovna in a later stage of life, another version of which sold, Sotheby's Olympia, 21 November 2002, lot 5. A less formal portrait by the same miniaturist, depicting the Empress wearing a straw hat, sold Sotheby's London, 19 December 1996, lot 69.
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