Sotheby’s will offer two tiaras that would have belonged to Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), wife of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and Empress of France. Although there is no definitive proof that these jewels belonged to Joséphine, the jewelery specialists at Sotheby’s and the auction house itself are sure to assert that these jewels by their style, their know-how – do and their known history are likely to have belonged to the Empress of France or someone of her status. They are, “by tradition, assumed to have belonged to Josephine,” in the language used by the auction house in its statement announcing the sale.
The tiaras are believed to have been made in Paris, circa 1808, and are in the neoclassical design favored by the two rulers of France. They are each part of an adornment (a set of jewelry designed to be worn together), set with cameos of old portraits and gems engraved with classic heads. Sotheby’s believes that many of these gemstones may be ancient and are believed to “impart to the wearer their various represented qualities such as heroism, loyalty and love”.
They come from a private collection in the UK where they have been held for at least 150 years, Sotheby’s said. The two sets are still contained in their original Parisian leather boxes. They will be offered in separate lots with a combined estimate of £ 300,000 to £ 500,000 ($ 410,000 to $ 690,000) as part of the Sotheby’s London Treasures sale on December 7.
At a minimum, this is a sale that will likely be a topic of conversation among jewelry specialists, historians, and collectors for some time.
According to Sotheby’s, these jewels “reflect the best of 19th century French craftsmanship at the time”.
“These majestic jewels mounted with cameos and intaglios certainly evoke the style of the great Empress Joséphine – her rank as the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, her impeccable taste and her interest in the classical world”, Kristian Spofforth, head of the Jewelry department of Sotheby’s in London, said in a statement. “Empress Josephine was more than just an antique collector. By being the first to incorporate these cameos and intaglios into her dress, wearing them side by side with pearls and diamonds, she created a whole new fashion that swept Paris and the world, based on neoclassical shapes. The jewels offered here testify to the finest delicate workmanship of the best French workshops, and today there are hardly any comparable pieces in the world. When fashions changed, jewelry was shattered and reshaped, making their survival truly exceptional. “
A representative from Sotheby’s explained that there is little record of exactly what Josephine held in her collection because she was constantly buying, modifying and exchanging coins. While Josephine’s jewelry inventories list many examples of her cameo and intaglio jewelry, there are few details on the content.
Their bond with Joséphine is passed on through family tradition. In addition, in quality and style, they correspond to what is known about Josephine and her style and if they do not belong to her, they belonged to “someone of her status”, wrote the representative of Sotheby’s in an email.
“The style reflected in the jewelry was typical of the taste and image of the royal couple after the French Revolution. Napoleon, to legitimize his new government, resurrected historical and cultural references to ancient Rome, “even choosing to adorn his crown as the crowning glory of a large number of cameos from ancient portraits,” Sotheby’s said in a statement. “Josephine understood the value of her public image, using her clothes and jewelry to evoke the ideals of the ancient world, and linking it to the current Empire to enhance the prestige of her husband’s regime. “
A similar set is kept in the collection of the Swedish royal family, inherited from Joséphine’s son, Eugène Rose de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg. His daughter, Joséphine de Leuchtenberg, brought many jewels to the Swedish royal family when she married future King Oscar I in 1823, Sotheby’s said.
The sets will be on display from November 2 to 9 at the Mandarin Oriental, Geneva, alongside the highlights of Sotheby’s sales at Magnificent Jewels.