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Work Set of jewellery

Department of Decorative Arts: 19th century

Parure de la reine Marie-Amélie

Decorative Arts
19th century

Author(s):
Muriel Barbier

This jewellery was modified over time to the tastes of Queen Hortense, Queen Marie-Amélie, and Isabelle of Orleans. It remained in the Orleans family until 1985. Although a number of portraits of the illustrious owners wearing the jewels are known, little is known about where they originated. Neither the artist nor the person who commissioned the pieces have been identified. However, the jewels are a precious testimony to the history of jewellery-making in Paris.

Technical perfection

The set consists of a diadem, a necklace, a pair of earrings and two small and one large brooch. All are set with Ceylon sapphires in their natural state - in other words, they have not been heat-treated to change their colour as is generally the case in jewellery-making today. The sapphires are ringed with diamonds set in gold. All the links of the necklace are articulated, reflecting the technical perfection of the set as a whole. The diadem was probably reduced in size between 1863 and 1873, as indicated by a comparison of the portrait of Marie-Amélie by Louis Hersent (1863, chateau of Versailles, on loan to the chateau of Compiègne) and the photographic portrait of Isabelle of Orleans, Duchesse of Guise (private collection). The comparison reveals that the diadem has changed slightly in the later portrait. The number of brooches now in the set is not the same as in the Hersent portrait, although this may be explained by the fact that parts of the diadem could be taken out and worn separately as a brooch.

An illustrious history

The earliest written record of this jewellery is in a letter relating to its purchase sent by the duke of Orleans, later King Louis-Philippe, to Hortense de Beauharnais (1783-1837), queen of Holland and later Duchess of Saint-Leu, its then owner. The jewellery was worn by Queen Marie-Amélie of France (1782-1866), who divided the set among her grandchildren as they married. Louis-Philippe, Count of Paris (1838-1894), the son of the duke of Orleans (1810-1842), bequeathed it to Philippe, Duke of Orleans (1869-1926), Isabelle of Orleans, duchess of Guise (1878-1961), and his successor as Count of Paris, who sold it to the Louvre in 1985.

The mystery of the jewels

It is generally believed that Queen Hortense acquired the jewellery from the Empress Josephine. However, there is no real proof of this. An Orleans family tradition that the jewels once belonged to Marie Antoinette complicates matters even further. It is difficult to obtain any firm proof about the past history of the jewels, which means that it is almost impossible to date them. The identity of the maker (or makers) is likewise unknown, partly because of the numerous additions and modifications that the jewellery has undergone. None of the pieces bear the hallmarks of any of the most respected jewellers of the nineteenth century - Nitot, Bapst, and Marguerite - who often worked for the royal family. Despite the mystery that surrounds it, the set of jewellery, named after the two queens who once owned it, Marie-Amélie and Hortense, is a remarkable tribute to the skills of Parisian jewellers in the early years of the nineteenth century.

Technical description

  • Parure de la reine Marie-Amélie

    Début et troisième quart du XIXe siècle

    Paris

  • Diadème : H. : 6,20 cm. ; D. : 10,70 cm.

  • Collection de la maison d'OrléansAcquis en 1985 , 1985

    OA 11030, OA 11031, OA 11032, OA 11033, OA 11034, OA 11035, OA 11036

  • Decorative Arts

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