Russian Solid Gold and Burl Wood Box, Circa 1885
This regal Russian box was exquisitely hand-crafted circa 1885 during the reign of the infamous Tsar Nicholas II, the last tsar of the Russian Empire. Just before World War I and the court introduction of legendary peasant-mystic, Grigori Rasputin, Russia experienced a time of great political and religious upheaval, as well as mystical and occult fascination. This box, carved from velvet-smooth burl wood, reflects the last echo of a lavish, pristine upper class verging on destruction. The solid gold emblem on the lid, the Lesser State Emblem of the Russian Empire, represents this tumultuous period in history.
The Emblem contains the symbol of the two-headed eagle, dating back to the Byzantine Empire and the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Partially due to the marriage of Ivan III with Sophia Paleologue, the Grand Dukes of Muscovy viewed themselves as the successors to the Byzantine Empire and included the Byzantine image of the dual-headed eagle on the emblem, reinforcing that notion. Each eagle wears a crown. The third, larger crown, that sits between their heads was added to the Emblem when the Romanov dynasty ascended to power at the beginning of the 17th century. The eagle holds a scepter and globus cruciger in its claws, symbols of authority and power.
The eagle’s chest, in tiny, immaculate detail, hosts an escutcheon, depicting a mounted St. George slaying the dragon, an image first found in Moscow on the seal of Vasali I in 1390. This image sits at the heart of the Emblem, showing strength against adversity. The Collar of St. Andrew surrounds the image of St. George, representing the highest order of chivalry in the Tsardom.
The Arms of the Russian lands in 1885 are shown on the spread wings of the eagle: Astrakhan, Siberia, Georgia, Finland, Kiev-Vladimir-Novgorod, Tauricia, Poland, and Kazan. In 1857, the Emperor approved the Greater, Middle, and Lesser Emblems, to be employed by distinguished officials or members of the Royal family in accordance with their rank and importance. This box, therefore, belonged to someone of rank because it displays one of the Emblems. Today, this stunningly-crafted piece encapsulates a period of history as complex, intricate, and fascinating as the box itself. It represents the last vestige of an opulent upper class on the precipice of collapse beneath the strain of rampant economic and sociopolitical inequality.
2" height, 3 3/4" length, 3 3/4" width.