These paintings and drawings are a part of a vast collection put together by the Demidoff family of Russia. They were originally from Tula and the first Demidoff of note was ennobled and enriched by Tsar Peter the Great. Demid Antufiev was a free blacksmith who also made arms. He produced a magnificent pair of pistols for the Emperor who was so impressed that he made him Count Demidoff in 1720 and put him in charge of the Imperial foundry. His son, Akinfii, enlarged the family fortune by discovering and developing massive gold, silver and copper mines in the Urals. The family was patrons of the arts, literature and science. By the end of the 18th century the Demidoff's became one of the richest families in Russia.
Anatole Demidoff married Napoleon's neice, Mathilde and was a great traveler and writer. He was given the title of Count of San Donato (Florence, Italy) where he furnished a large palace. In 1872 Paul Demidoff, Anatole's nephew bought the Villa of Pratolino twelve kilometers from Florence.
My father Prince Paul inherited Pratolino from his mother's sister, Princess Abamelek Lazareff nee Demidoff. When I lived at Pratolino as a child, I was fascinated by many treasures from many different countries. There were Russian paintings and furniture from Napoleon's house/prison on Elba because of his connection to the Demidoff family and of course Italian works of art. I remember Peter the Great's sword and the clock that was on Napoleon's night table in Elba. I learned about the vast sale in 1899 and that the malachite vase in our Metropolitan Museum was part of the Demidoff treasure trove as was the Crivelli tryptich in the National Gallery in London.
There had been an enormous palace on the grounds of Pratolino which, alas, was destroyed by Leopold of Habsburg who had it demolished by canon fire. Pieces of rock crystal from the chandeliers were strewn all over the park. John Evelyn wrote about this palace in his memoirs when he was traveling through Italy in the seventeenth century.
Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia