Sotheby’s is set to offer two tiaras in London that are thought to have belonged to Joséphine de Beauharnais, the wife of Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and Empress of France.
The two tiaras, each part of a set of matching jewellery, are set with gemstones engraved with classical heads, several of which are “possibly ancient”.
Sotheby’s said the gemstones were believed to “endow the wearer with their various depicted qualities such as heroism, faithfulness and love” and that these “rare tiaras are examples of the very finest early 19th-century French craftsmanship”.
Both tiaras are coming to auction from a UK private collection where they have reportedly remained for at least 50 years, and both parures 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 London Treasures sale on 7 December 2021.
The parures will be exhibited from 2-9 November at Mandarin Oriental, Geneva, alongside highlights from Sotheby’s sales of Magnificent Jewels.
In addition, the sale includes additional pieces which are also thought to have belonged to Joséphine de Beauharnais.
This includes six hardstone cameos and one large intaglio, with four small carnelian intaglios, attached to a later associated necklace from Italy in the late 18th/early 19th century, and a French or Italian fillet or collar set with nine cameos and 10 small intaglios with animals from the 19th century at an estimated £30,000-£50,000.
The sale also includes an Italian cameo with a warrior and shield with a chimera, agate, Italian, circa 1780-1800, within a French partially enameled mount, circa 1808 at as estimated £20,000-£30,000.
Kristian Spofforth, head of Sotheby’s Jewels department in London, said: “These majestic jewels mounted with cameos and intaglios certainly evoke the style of the grand Empress Joséphine – her rank as wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, her impeccable taste and her interest in the classical world.
“Empress Joséphine was much more than just a collector of antiquities. By being the first to incorporate these cameos and intaglios into her dress, wearing them side by side with pearls and diamonds, she created an entire new fashion that swept Paris and the world, based on neo-classical forms.”
He added: “The jewels offered here demonstrate the finest delicate work by the finest French workshops, and, today, there are hardly any comparable pieces in the world. When fashions changed, jewellery was broken up and re-modelled, making their survival a truly exceptional one.”