An outstanding auction by Christie’s, displaying a variety of prominent, coming-from-royal-families pieces, is going to take place tomorrow in Geneva. Among the splendid precious lots, Evgenia Pukhaeva had chosen 2 remarkable pieces to share with you some insights about.
These pieces belonged to women that during their lifetimes, and even centuries after, were and are an avowed epitome of power, wealth, and beauty. Their names are: Paulina Bonaparte, and Marie Antoinette.
EARLY XIX CENTURY TIARA, ATTRIBUTED TO NITOT
This magnificent tiara belonged to the favorite sister of Napoleon, Pauline Bonaparte-Borghese. Probably, as some consider, she appears wearing this piece on the painting “The Coronation of Napoleon” (1807) by Jacques-Louis David.
Pauline is depicted together with her other sisters, she is the second from the left. To be honest, her headpiece is so poorly visible that it is hard to assert it is that one with utmost certainty. Anyway, what I find particularly sweet about this picture is that on the author’s replica (pic. 2), David accented Paulina’s figure by painting her in a pink dress while the other sisters are dressed the same way as in the original picture. Not only did Napoleon love his little sister, but also Paulina demonstrated her loyalty as she was the only sibling to follow him on Elba. She sold many of her jewelry to make his stay on the island more pleasant.
The tiara is attributed to Marie-Étienne Nitot, the official jeweler of Emperor Napoleon, and the founder of Chaumet. The design of the piece is clearly inspired by ancient Rome where the wheat was attributed to Ceres, goddess of harvest, fertility, and prosperity. Ear of wheat was one of the prominent motifs in France during the first third of the XIX century, though fascination for ancient Rome was progressively growing among the elite since the 1750’s when the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum started. Christie’s dates the tiara as “circa 1811”, and it corresponds to the fashion of the time. Though, if we accept that Paulina wore the piece at the coronation of 1804, it still fits fashion tendencies.
Also, the headpiece is en tremblant, which makes it more naturalistic and adds sparkle to old-cut diamonds. Ears are separable from the base and can be attached one by one as brooches.
A STUNNING PAIR OF DIAMOND BRACELETS
The last queen of France, fashion icon of her time, one of the most prominent women in history – there’s no need for a more detailed introduction of Marie Antoinette.
The most remarkable thing about these bracelets is their outstandingly impeccable provenance. From the commission to this day, every step was meticulously documented and kept in archives. There is no doubt that the Queen used to wear them.
The story behind this lot is pretty dramatic though. Seeing how quickly and decisively the revolutionary movement grew, in 1791 Marie Antoinette packed her jewels and sent them to a friend in Brussels. Two years later the Queen was guillotined. The only surviving child of hers, Madame Royal, inherited her mother’s jewelry in 1796 after being freed from the Temple, where she was imprisoned for four years.
Also, it’s astonishing how modern these bracelets are, aren’t they? Put them on with a white shirt and a pair of blue jeans, and who would ever think that you are wearing Marie Antoinette’s jewelry. Well, after the auction many will, of course. I think you understand what I mean.
It’s a miraculous stroke of luck that after more than 200 years the bracelets still look like they did back then, apart from minor changes. I’d say micro-changes considering that most royal jewelry arrived to our times in very poor conditions, or without the initially set stones, or redesigned according to the fashion of some other period. A similar fate befell onto another splendid lot of the sale – Menier brooch with rubies. The pin was an earring and was part of the impressive parure by Menier that… was made of another demounted parure by Nitot, again. Surprisingly, this piece also belonged to Madame Royale.