Diamond encrusted gold snuffbox, about 1768. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.346-2008

Diamond encrusted gold snuffbox, about 1768. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.346-2008

Diamond encrusted gold snuffbox
Unknown maker
Probably Russia
About 1768
Gold and diamonds
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.346-2008

This jewelled and varicoloured-gold snuffbox is decorated on each surface with figures in classical landscapes in coloured gold within borders decorated within thin, parallel mouldings and entwined with foliage and flowers. The cover is encrusted with diamonds in the architectural details, with four pink diamonds that have foil behind them to reflect the light, and numerous rose diamonds around the borders.

The profusion of diamonds on this box suggest a Russian origin although the goldsmith’s work is possibly Austrian - the box is unsigned and the maker’s mark is unrecorded.

The box was presented to the Englishman Nathaniel Dimsdale by the Russian imperial family in gratitude for the medical services rendered by him and his father. Thomas Dimsdale (1712-1800), an English doctor and advocate of inoculation against smallpox, was asked to visit Russia to advise the Empress, Catherine the Great, on a programme of inoculation during the Russian smallpox epidemic of 1768. Dimsdale, accompanied by his son Nathaniel (1748-1811), travelled to Russia and successfully inoculated the Empress and her son, Grand Duke Paul.

In return, Thomas Dimsdale was created a baron of the Russian empire and appointed councillor of state and physician to the Empress. In addition he received a lump sum of £10,000, an annuity of £500, a further £2,000 for his expenses, and a diamond-set portrait of Catherine and Paul. Nathaniel Dimsdale received the same title as his father and the Grand Duke also presented him with this superb snuffbox.