The Tsar and the Order of Malta

On 19 March 2021, by Sophie Reyssat

Some of Paul I’s historic diplomatic documents return to Moscow.

Saint Petersburg, 1797, creation of the Grand Priory of Russia for the Order of Malta through six diplomatic documents, three signed by Paul I and three by his plenipotentiaries, Alexander Bezborodko, Alexander Kurakin and Giulio Litta.
Result: €518,750

This two-day sale of Russian art got off to a booming start on Saturday, March 13. Collectors battled for historic documents that garnered a total of €518,750, soaring past the high estimate of €30,000: six diplomatic deeds ratifying the creation of the Grand Priory of Russia for the Order of Malta in 1797. At the time, the geopolitical situation was tense. With the rising power of a Bonaparte with Malta in his crosshairs, the Russian Empire suddenly absorbed a large population of Polish Catholics after their country was partitioned and the fate of the order’s priory in Poland was uncertain, while in France it was dissolved and its property confiscated. As the Grand Master sought Russia’s protection and financial backing, Tsar Paul I, a foe of revolutionary France, looked favorably on an alliance with the Order of Malta, which would allow him to shore up his positions in the Mediterranean and set himself up as a defender of Catholics and Europe’s aristocracy. The two parties signed an agreement making the Orthodox Tsar the Grand Prior of the Catholic order. A political necessity…

Sunday, March 14 saw further successes: Dmitry Stelletsky’s The Kremlin, Moscow (73 x 100 cm, 28.74 x 39.37 in) fetched €113,750, double its estimate, while a beautiful 19th-century icon of the Black Virgin, The Chenstokhovska Virgin Mary, a tempera on gilt carved wood inlaid with semi-precious stones and fine pearls, sold for €18,750.

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