Josephine in Emerald Parure.
The first 'gold digger' on our list is the Empress Josephine. Adept at latching onto men who could further her social and financial ambitions, from the unfortunate Beauharnais (guillotined) to Napoleon (exiled and probably murdered by the English) with hordes of lovers in between.
During the last few weeks, we saw that Josephine's life revolved around her many lovers and luxuries, spending a fortune on clothes and jewelry. She vastly exceeded the allowance given to her by Napoleon to the tune of millions of francs. While Josephine's overspending often resulted in violent rage, it suited Napoleon that his court was so finely reflected and he too, took a great interest in jewelry.
Invariably depicted wearing gold, gems and pearls, Josephine became the leader of Europe's artistic and fashion world. Josephine loved huge gems. She carefully chose her jewelry to match not only an outfit, but the colors of a room that she was about to enter.
Josephine re-instituted the wearing of tiaras and diadems that had largely fallen out of favor during the previous few decades. Her adoption of the Neo-Greque style, named 'Empire' after the Bonaparte Empire, was perfect to symbolise royalty and power without a reminder of the Marie Antoinette and the Bourbons.
Diadem sheathes of wheat - part of Chaumet collection in Paris. Made by Nitot.
During Napoleon's reign, excavations began at Herculaneum and Pompeii near Rome and everything Ancient Roman came into fashion. Sheathes of wheat, laurels and especially cameos became fashionable and popular themes in Josephine's jewelry vocabulary. Many cameos from Italy were sent to be incorporated into jewelry for Josephine.
Josephine gave gifts of jewelry to many people, especially those nearest and dearest to her (family).
Both Josephine and Napoleon Bonaparte favored the jeweller, Nitot, who was their court-jeweller. In later years, the firm's name was changed to Chaumet, which exists and makes beautiful jewelry to this day.
#6698 A later Chaumet ring.
Although Napoleon and Josephine did not have children together, through Hortense and Eugene, Joséphine is the great grandmom of the present heads of the royal houses of Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden and of the grandducal house of Baden, the Russian branch of the Beauharnais line and other aristocrats and royalty, too numerous to mention. Thanks to these royal houses, we are lucky to know the whereabouts of some of Josephine's jewelry. There are many items that have a clear provenance with lines of ownership between Josephine and today's owners. Then, there are items that may be associated with Josephine - she gave a lot of jewelry to her family as gifts. As for so much jewelry that has disappeared, another source of information is the jewelry clearly depicted in portraits of Josephine painted during her life-time. Some of these 'lost' jewels have been re-created and can be seen in the Museum of Malmaison, formerly the beloved home of Josephine and Napoleon. (see portrait of Josephine in emerald parure above, and re-creation below).
Some jewelry owned by Josephine is described below.
1. In March 2013, Napoleon and Josephine's engagement ring sold for US$1.17million (including buyer's premium) to an anonymous buyer.
The golden ring is in an 18th century setting called "toi et moi," "You and Me," with opposing tear-shaped jewels -- a blue sapphire and a diamond. The carat weight of the two gems is little less than a carat each.
The ring may seem unimpressive considering the names attached to it are an emperor and empress, but it actually illustrates Napoleon's passion for his future queen. (It was an extravagant purchase considering Napoleon's current income at the time).
Josephine gave the ring to her daughter, Hortense, who was briefly Queen of Holland through her marriage to Napoleon’s brother, Louis Bonaparte. For two centuries, the ring remained with the extended Bonaparte family. Hortense’s son, Napoleon III of France, inherited it from his mother; his only son, the Prince Imperial, died without descendants, so the ring passed to Victor, Prince Napoleon (the grandson of Napoleon’s brother, Jerome Bonaparte). The ring was auctioned in 2013 with possessions belonging to Victor and his wife, Princess Clementine of Belgium.
2. A cameo set, made by Nitot Fils, was almost certainly owned by Josephine. There is some uncertainty over why/when it was worn by Hortense, Josephine's daughter, who was painted wearing the set. Did Josephine lend or give it to her? Today, the tiara is owned by the Swedish Royal family, who descend from Josephine's son, Eugene. Swedish brides traditionally wear the tiara on their wedding day.
Hortense, Josephine's daughter wearing cameo parure.
Josephine wearing cameo parure.
Details of cameo parure.
Vever's book on French jewelry shows us details of cameo parure.
3. The Swedish Amethyst Parure was reputedly given to Eugene's bride as a wedding gift from Josephine. Today, it is owned by the Bernadotte Family Jewel Foundation. The Bernadottes are the Swedish Royal Family, as mentioned, descendants of Josephine via Eugene.
4. Another possible gift from Josephine to Augusta-Amelie, her daughter-in-law, is an entire parure of carved malachite. Since some of the cameos depict Josephine herself, the original ownership has been called into doubt - the theory being that Josephine would not wear cameos depicting herself.
5. There are a number of emerald parures associated with Josephine. We already mentioned one, recreated and displayed at Josephine's home, Malmaison. See picture above.
An emerald and diamond parure was supposedly given to Hortense as a wedding gift from Napoleon and Josephine. It is owned today by the Victoria and Albert Museum and is part of the Beauharnais Collection. Yet another emerald and diamond parure, supposedly owned by Josephine is now in the collection of the Norwegian Royal Family, also descendants of Josephine via Eugene. For technical reasons, there is doubt about the origins (if the emeralds are Russian, they could not be from Josephine's time as emeralds were only discovered in Russia at a later date).
6. Some of Josephine's jewelry can be seen in America. The Smithsonian owns a diamond necklace owned by Josephine.
Marjorie Merriweather Post owned a pair of her pearl earrings.
Czar Alexander I was a great friend of Josephine's, especially after Napoleon's exile. He gave her many gifts, including a diamond tiara. It is said that while walking in her gardens with the Czar, she caught a cold that led to her death a few weeks later. The original tiara was broken up and made into various other jewels, but some of the wonderful briolette diamonds were used to make The Empress Josephine Tiara, now housed in the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Recreation of emerald parure, displayed at Malmaison.