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Presented to Nathaniel Dimsdale by Catherine II
Foil-backed diamonds and vari-colored gold
Russia or Germany, 1768
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Thomas Dimsdale (1712-1800) was an English doctor and staunch advocate of the practice of inoculation against smallpox. That seems reasonable. Dimsdale was summoned by the Russian ambassador to advise Catherine II during the Russian smallpox epidemic of 1768.
The Empress was so impressed by the success of the potentially dangerous treatment that she created Dimsdale a Baron of the Russian Empire, a councilor of state and personal physician to the Empress. Good gig. Furthermore, Dimsdale’s work garnered him the favor of the British Empire and he was awarded a princely sum of £10,000 plus an annuity and works of art.
Dimsdale’s entire family enjoyed the generosity of the Empress and the British Crown. The doctor’s son, Nathaniel, was presented by Catherine II with this magnificent diamond-encrusted, varicolored-gold snuffbox. The box is adorned with figures in neo-classical landscapes and was made in either St Petersburg or Berlin.
As was the practice when this box was made (1768), the diamonds are foil-backed to increase their luster. Many of them are backed in pink foil to give the impression of rare pink diamonds. At some point, the box became part of the collection of Sir Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert who bequeathed their impressive lot of important “stuff” to the V&A. This box has long been accompanied by a miniature portrait of Thomas, 1st Baron Dimsdale, which was enameled by Henry Bone in 1800 in the final year of the famed doctor’s life.