The fortress town of Tula lies 165 kilometers south of the city of Moscow and on the border of the Principality of Ryazan. In 1712 the Demidov blacksmiths were commissioned to found Russia's first armament factory after a visit by Peter the Great. Besides arms and armour the factory produced samovars and items of furniture with increasing sophistication.
The dressing-table 'marriage' or jewel-chest is a masterpiece of the steel-workers craft, with its silvery light-reflecting tablets enriched by golden and brilliantly faceted reliefs. Designed in the 1770s antique fashion, as promoted by Empress Catherine II's Rome-trained Scottish architect Charles Cameron (d.1812), it evokes lyric poetry and love's triumph. Enwreathed by entwined garlands of Venus' roses and Apollo's laurels, its octagonal compartment top displays a garlanded basket that is accompanied by palms and flowered sacred urns. A candlestick, with related garlands and gilt-brass enrichments, is illustrated in I. Sychev's, Russian bronze, Moscow, 2003 (p.38).
During the 1770s and 1780s Empress Catherine patronised the ornamental manufacturers of the the Imperial Arms factory. An Imperial Tula dressing-table with dressing equipment furnished the Empress's apartment at the Palace of Pavlovsk in the later 18th Century. A toilet set, executed by the master armourer Semion Samarin was presented to the Empress' daughter-in-law Maria Feodorovna in 1789 (see M. Malchenko, Art Objects in Steel by Tula Craftsmen, Leningrad, 1974, p.6). A related dressing-table, with vase-enriched pillar supported by a Venus-dolphin 'claw', has been dated to around 1780 (see W. Koeppe, 'The Oldenburg Table', Weltkunst, 2005, pp.188-192; and W. Koeppe: 'Center Table', in: 'Recent Acquistions. A Selection: 2001-2002', in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Spring, 2002, Fig.25).