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Two Tiaras Once Owned by Josephine Bonaparte Are Up for Auction

Napoleon’s empress was an early 19th-century style icon. Now, two of her diadems are on sale at Sotheby’s

When Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself emperor of France in 1804, he not only revolutionized politics but also fashion. The ruler and his first wife, Josephine, established themselves as 19th-century fashion icons: He embraced lavish accessories as a way of conveying authority, while she popularized flowing, high-waisted dresses and extravagant Neoclassical gold and gems.

Now, more than 200 years after the empress’ death in 1814, two of the tiaras she likely owned at the pinnacle of her power are going up for auction.Studded with gems and carvings of classical figures, the two tiaras and accompanying jewelry are expected to sell for between $410,000 and $690,000. Crafted around 1808, the stunning sets have been housed in a private British collection for about 150 years.

The carved stones are extraordinary and the way they are mounted into the tiaras shows incredible craftsmanship for the early 1800s.

When Napoleon assumed control of France, he sought to legitimize his reign by comparing his new government to that of ancient Greece and Rome, even including cameos, or raised relief carvings, of Alexander the Great, Nero and other famous rulers, on his coronation crown.

Josephine followed suit, using her clothes and jewels to evoke the ideals of the ancient world, and linking it with the current Empire to enhance the prestige of her husband’s regime.

Inspired by the Neoclassical style that gained traction just before the French Revolution, Napoleon and Josephine transformed French fashion by incorporating Greco-Roman styles into their clothing and jewelry. They wore ostentatious outfits and ornaments at parties held in Paris, influencing trends across Europe and beyond.

A hair comb, pendant earrings and belt ornament likely once owned by Empress Josephine

Each tiara in the auction is part of a parure, or matching set of jewelry. The first is a gold diadem with 25 engraved carnelians depicting the heads of classical characters and blue enamel decorations. A pair of pendant earrings, a hair comb and a belt ornament featuring a cameo of the Roman wine god Bacchus are up for sale alongside it.

The other crown features five cameos depicting the mythical figures Zeus, Medusa, Dionysus, Pan and Gaia. It’s accompanied by a belt clasp and ornament.

This painting by Jacques-Louis David depicts the coronation of Napoleon and his wife Josephine.

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