Snuffbox with portrait of Catherine II (1729–1796), Empress of Russia, Joseph Étienne Blerzy (French, active 1750–1806), Gold, enamel, diamonds, French, Paris

Snuffbox with portrait of Catherine II (1729–1796), Empress of Russia

Joseph Étienne Blerzy (French, active 1750–1806)
Miniature by Nicolas Soret (Swiss, 1759–1830)
1774–75, minaiture ca. 1786
French, Paris
Gold, enamel, diamonds
Overall: 1 3/8 × 3 × 2 3/16 in. (3.5 × 7.6 × 5.6 cm);
Miniature: 1 1/8 × 15/16 in. (2.9 × 2.4 cm)
Metalwork-Gold and Platinum, Miniatures
Credit Line:
Bequest of Catherine D. Wentworth, 1948
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 545
In eighteenth-century Europe, Paris led the production of high-quality luxury goods. Parisian goldsmiths made a wide range of small, personal articles such as snuffboxes; étuis to hold sealing wax, tweezers, or utensils for sewing; souvenirs, which contained thin ivory tablets for note taking; and shuttles for knotting lace. Gold snuffboxes and boxes decorated with portrait miniatures were prized and frequently given as royal gifts, often to ambassadors or members of the court in lieu of cash payments for their services. Coveted and admired, these boxes were produced from a variety of materials. The best were skillfully made of gold and embellished with diamonds, enameled decoration, lacquer, and other luxurious materials. By the middle of the century, the taking of snuff had become an entrenched social ritual, and the snuffbox, too, had become an important social prop. Snuffboxes were considered highly fashionable accessories, with some merchants advertising new boxes with each change of season. The popularity of snuffboxes extended to all levels of society, and for those who could not afford gold, boxes were produced in less expensive materials such as silver, tortoiseshell, porcelain, or domestically produced lacquer.
Marking: [1] crowned fleur-de-lis, 2 grains de remède, JEB, device a level (maker's mark); [2] PARIS in cipher (Paris charge mark for gold and small silver, 1774–80); [3] crowned italic L (Paris warden's mark for gold, 1774–75); [4] monkey's head (Paris discharge mark for gold and small silver, 1774–80); [5] A within a slanted square (Austrian mark for small work in 20 karat gold, 1806–07); [6] 217 (probably retailer's number).

Location of marks:
[1]–[3] inside bottom, front wall and cover
[4]–[6] on insetting rim of box
Catherine D. Wentworth (until 1948; to MMA)