Sotheby’s: two Empress Josephine Bonaparte tiaras up for auction

Sotheby’s will auction in London two tiaras that are thought to have belonged to Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), wife of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and Empress of France. These extremely rare tiaras are exquisite examples of the finest French craftsmanship of the early 19th century. Made in Paris around 1808, they embody the charm of neoclassical design that reached its zenith during the reign of Bonaparte, whose second centenary of death falls this year.

Coming from a private British collection where they have remained for at least 150 years, both sets are still contained in their original Parisian leather boxes. They will be offered with estimates of £200,000-300,000 and £100,000-200,000 respectively in Sotheby’s sale entitled “London Treasures” on 7 December. The tiaras will be on display from 2-9 November at the Mandarin Oriental in Geneva, alongside the highlights of Sotheby’s ‘Magnificent Jewels’ sales.

The style of the two tiaras reflects the fact that after the French Revolution, Napoleon 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 cameos of ancient portraits. Joséphine understood the value of her public image, using her clothes and jewellery to evoke the ideals of the ancient world, and linking them to the Empire to increase the prestige of her husband’s regime.

The two tiaras – each part of a parure (or set of matching jewellery designed to be worn together) – are set with precious stones engraved with classical heads, many of which are probably ancient, and were believed to endow the wearer with their various depicted qualities such as heroism, loyalty and love.

A similar set can be found in the collection of the Swedish royal family, inherited by Joséphine’s son, Eugène Rose de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg. His daughter, Joséphine de Leuchtenberg, brought numerous jewels into the Swedish royal family when she married the future King Oscar I in 1823.


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