By David Brough
LONDON – Two tiaras that are, by tradition, thought to have once belonged to Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), wife of Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and Empress of France, together sold for an above estimate £576,600 at Sotheby’s London (est. £300,000-500,000) on December 7, 2021.
Credit for images: Sotheby’s
Emerging onto the market now having remained in the same UK private collection for over 150 years, the tiaras are two exquisite examples of the very finest early 19th-century French craftsmanship, embodying the fascination for neo-classical design that reached its zenith under Bonaparte’s regime.
Made in Paris circa 1808, their style reflects the fact that after the French Revolution, Napoléon had sought to legitimise his new government by resurrecting historical and cultural references to ancient Rome, even choosing to stud his coronation crown with a large number of ancient portrait cameos.
Joséphine understood the value of her public image, using her clothes and jewels to evoke the ideals of the ancient world, and linking it with the current Empire to enhance the prestige of her husband’s regime.
The two tiaras – each part of a parure (or a set of matching jewellery designed to be worn together) – are set with gemstones engraved with classical heads, several of which are possibly ancient, and were believed to endow the wearer with their various depicted qualities such as heroism, faithfulness and love.
A similar parure is held in the collection of the Swedish Royal family, inherited through Joséphine’s son, Eugène Rose de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg. His daughter, Joséphine of Leuchtenberg, brought numerous jewels into the Swedish Royal family when she married the future King Oscar I in 1823.
Kristian Spofforth, head of Sotheby’s London jewellery department, told Jewellery Outlook after the sale that the prices above estimate achieved in the sale reflected the provenance and the enduring appeal of Empress Josephine in the public imagination, much more than the intrinsic value of the pieces.
“Empress Josephine was one of the most influential figures of her period,” he said.
circa 1805, some glyptics possibly ancient
Sold for £450,600
circa 1808, some cameos possibly ancient
Sold for £126,000
Image credit: Sotheby’s