Nicolas Demidoff was a member of the Russian family that had acquired great wealth through mining and iron production in the 18th century. The family business was begun when Nikita Demidovich Antufyev [1656-1725] constructed an iron foundry in Tula on land granted by Peter the Great [reigned 1682-1725], and became a supplier of weaponry to the Imperial armies. Peter subsequently made a nobleman of Nikita, who took the family name Demidov [Demidoff]. Future generations of Demidovs, starting with Nikita's son Akinfi [1678-1745], increased the family fortune through silver mining in the Urals and by the discovery on their estates of rich seams of malachite. Nicolas Demidoff was Akinfi's grandson.
Nicolas entered the imperial guard at a young age, and served as an aide-de-camp to Potemkin. Later in his career, in 1812, Nicolas organized a regiment to oppose Napoleon's invasion. He married Countess Elizabeth Stroganoff [1779-1818] of the illustrious Russian family, and after Napoleon's defeat, moved from his estates at Tula to Paris. After his wife died he settled first in Rome and then eventually, from 1822, in Florence. He founded hospitals and many other charitable institutions, and it was near Florence, at San Donato in Polverone, that he purchased the land on which he commissioned to be built a large villa, with plans to fill it with an important art collection. The Grand Duke of Tuscany was sufficiently impressed to nominate him Count of San Donato. Nicolas' younger son, Anatole, inherited the title and the villa, and continued to enlarge the building and the collection after his father's death in 1828. [Compiled from sources and references recorded on CMS]