10 masterpieces of the Hermitage's 'Diamond Room' (PICS)

Hermitage Museum
Many items from the diamond collection of Catherine II can be seen in the ‘Diamond Pantry’ of the State Hermitage Museum. We’ve selected the most striking ones for you.

When Catherine II came to the throne of Russia, she ordered to set up a “diamond chamber” in the Winter Palace. Initially, the room was used to store portraits of Her Majesty, rings, jeweled snuff boxes, watches and chains, gold handles of cold weapons, crockery and many other valuable objects. Later, the gallery of imperial treasures was moved to the New Hermitage and opened to the public. By the mid-19th century, it had become the largest publicly accessible collection of jewelry art in Russia.

Below are the ten most memorable masterpieces of the ‘Diamond Pantry’.

Virtual tour

1. Reliquary in the form of a figure of the first Christian deacon St. Etienne (late 12th century, France)

Reliquaries held the relics of Christian saints. This gilded silver reliquary, decorated with precious stones and filigree, depicts St. Stephen (in French tradition, Etienne), the first church deacon stoned for his adherence to the new religion. The relics were kept in a book which he holds in his hands.

2. The Processional Cross of St. Trudpert — The Cross of Frabourg (Strasbourg, last quarter of the 13th century)

The Processional Cross was carried at the beginning of the liturgical procession — hence its name. It was created at the end of the 13th century to store the particles of the Life-Giving Cross, on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The particles were brought from Palestine by Crusaders. The cross is decorated with sculptural figures of the Savior, Madonna and Apostle John. The figure of Christ is the only one of the three made entirely of gold. The piece is studded with precious and semi-precious stones, carved, chased, engraved, filigree, niello and cloisonné enamel.

3. Hedwig Jagiellon’s casket (Nuremberg, 1533)

The gilded silver casket decorated with pearls, cameos and precious stones was brought to Russia as part of the dowry of German princess Sophia Charlotte Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel — the daughter-in-law of Peter the Great, wife of his son Alexei and mother of Emperor Peter II. She was a seventh-generation descendant of the Polish Princess Hedwig Jagiellon. The legs of the chest are made in the form of griffins holding shields with the coats of arms of Hedwig’s husband, Elector of Brandenburg, and her father, the Polish king.

4. Caravelle pendant with 190-carat Colombian emeralds (Spain, 1580s)

The unusual shape of this pendant is inspired by the Great Geographical Discoveries of the era. The caravel’s fuselage is based on a 125-carat Colombian emerald. The total weight of these stones in the piece is 190 carats: five more are set in the shape of the cross to which the ship is suspended. The height of the piece is only 9.3 centimeters.

5. Anna Ioannovna’s gold toiletry set (Augsburg, 1736-1740)

Anna Ioannovna’s dressing set consists of 46 items. Among them are a large mirror, many caskets and boxes, a hand washbasin, trays, brushes, bottles, candlesticks. And also soup bowls, cups, teapots, coffee pots, sugar bowls and other utensils, because it took several hours to prepare the beauty. All items — and this is 45 kg of gold — are distinguished by the excellent quality of workmanship and a variety of jewelry techniques. Later, the toiletry set was used during the dressing of the brides of the imperial house.

6. Nessesser in the form of an egg with a clock (Paris, 1757-1758)

Nessessers are special cases for storing toiletries, perfume bottles, sewing supplies and other items. They were popular in Russia in the 18th century: small cases were part of a woman’s toilette.

Empress Elizaveta Petrovna was given this diamond-studded cosmetic case by the French ambassador for Easter — that is why the piece is made in the form of an egg. It is decorated with the Russian double-headed eagle at the bottom and the monogram of Elizabeth at the top. The height of the jewelry piece is only 8.3 cm.

7. Bouquets of precious & ornamental stones (Russia, 1740s)

Three bouquets of diamonds, sapphires, rubies, topazes, amethysts and emeralds were made for Elizaveta Petrovna by Jeremiah Pozier, a court jeweler working in the mid-18th century. The queen used these floral compositions to decorate her hairstyle or costume: they were attached to her belt or shoulder.

For the needs of the court, Pozier made snuff boxes, rings, orders and jewelry. For the coronation of Catherine II, he created the Great Imperial Crown, which was used in ceremonies by all Russian tsars.

8. Badge & star of the Order of St. Andrew (Russia, about 1800)

The Order of St. Andrew was the highest award of the Russian Empire. It was established by Peter the Great in 1698. Cavaliers were awarded a badge, a star and a blue ribbon. 

The badge depicts a cross with a crucified apostle, on the cross are the letters S-A-P-R, which stand for ‘Sanctus Andreas patronus Russiae’: “St. Andrew is the patron saint of Russia”. The sign was worn near the hip on a wide silk blue ribbon over the right shoulder. 

The Star of St. Andrew has eight rays and, in its center, is a medallion with the motto of the Order: “For Faith and Fidelity”. It was worn on the chest on the left, above other awards.

In special cases, the monarch could award a cavalier with an order encrusted with jewels and diamonds. Awards with precious stones were most often found among men of the imperial family. 

The ‘Diamond Pantry’ displays the badge and star from the collection of Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, made around 1800. They are decorated with jewels and diamonds, rubies and enamel.

9. Horse harness presented to Nicholas I by Turkish Sultan Mahmud II (presumably France, 19th century)

This luxurious set consists of a harness, a saber, a gold sheath covered with purple enamel and a purple ‘cheprak’ — a bedding under the saddle. More than 16,000 diamonds were used to create the set. It was a diplomatic gift presented by Turkey to the Russian emperor on the occasion of the Adrianople Peace concluded in 1829. It was never used for its intended purpose.

10. Icon of Our Lady of Kazan in a frame with trinkets (late 19th century — icon, 1887 — frame, 1890s — trinkets)

The gold and silver frame was created by the jewelry firm of Pavel Ovchinnikov, once a serf who became a supplier to the imperial court. Ovchinnikov specialized in making objects for worship. He was a recognized master in recreating the Old Russian style. 

The decoration on the frame — miniature Easter eggs — was made by the firm of court jeweler Carl Faberge. The eggs are decorated with enamel, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies and pearls.

The icon belonged to last Russian Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna.

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