On the feast of the Epiphany, the Tsar, his family and the diplomatic corps traditionally watched the Great Blessing of the Waters on the Frozen River Neva by the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.
Since the time of Peter the Great the
ceremony was accompanied by a regimental gun salute - provided on
January 6, 1905, by the first battery of the Guard's Horse
Artillery. As the salute was fired, it became clear - as grapeshot
began to ricochet against the palace stonework - that 'number one'
gun was live.
Against a backdrop of revolutionary
discontent, the Tsar viewed the incident as an attempt on his
One piece of shot had come close to
hitting him and was retrieved from his feet by Grand Duke Nicholas
Nicholaievitch. He took it to Fabergé and had it mounted in gold
and white chalcedony as a seal by chief workmaster, Henrik
Engraved in Cyrillic Recalling the
salute of the 6th January 1905, it was presented to his
Majesty as a souvenir of the occasion.
The historic seal, that descended in the
family of the Russian general Prince Michael Cantacuzène
(1875-1955), will be a highlight of Wartski's stand at TEFAF Maastricht,
priced at £500,000.
Although a special commission
concluded the Epiphany salute was nothing more than a mistake, the
incident was, inadvertently a catalyst for the Revolution of 1905.
Just three days later, when protestors marched on the Winter Palace
imploring reform, jittery Palace troops chose to open fire on the
peaceful crowd. Hundreds died.
• TEFAF Maastricht runs
from March 15-24. See pages 22-28.