Malachite Jewellery Ensemble supposedly belonging to Josephine

Period : Directory / 1st Empire
Artist(s) : NITOT & Fils
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Malachite Jewellery Ensemble supposedly belonging to Josephine
Malachite Jewellery Ensemble supposedly belonging to Josephine © Fondation Napoléon

This ensemble of two necklaces, a pair of bracelets, a diadem, a brooch, a pendant and six pins, attributed to jewellers Marie-Étienne Nitot and François-Régnault Nitot (father and son), is decorated with cameos in malachite, natural pearls, yellow gold and tortoiseshell.
All except three of the cameos have antique-style figures on them, female or male profiles. The two necklaces and the brooch, on the other hand, bear heads shown face forwards, that on the brooch being possibly a portrait of Josephine.

Brooch bearing a malachite cameo which could be a representation of Josephine. © Fondation Napoléon

This jewellery ensemble is entirely representative of the taste in vogue at the beginning of the nineteenth century: Josephine de Beauharnais was particularly fond of fantasy jewellery, and she played an important role, from the Consulate on, in making this style à la mode. Malachite, one of her favourite semi-precious stones, was well represented in her collection, as the inventory after her death shows: “n°115 Item: a malachite necklace and earrings, valued at three hundred francs (sic)”.

There remain however doubts as to the identity of the owner of these items.
On the one hand, the fact that brooch cameo may represent Josephine makes it unlikely that Josephine herself would have worn it, despite the vanity that all her critics attributed to her. On the other hand, the red morocco carrying case was made later and bears the monogram “A” surmounted by a crown. It is therefore possible that the Empress Josephine could have given it to her daughter-in-law, Augusta-Amélie, vicereine of the Kingdom of Italy as a result of her marriage to  Eugène de Beauharnais.

Carrying case for the malachite jewellery ensemble that supposedly belonged to Josephine © Fondation Napoléon

This hypothesis is backed up by the existence of a necklace, known as the “chaîne gothique “(Gothic Chain), held at the Musée de Malmaison in a similar carrying case and which also bears a capital letter “A” surmounted by a crown, as well as an order number (n°42) and the object’s name.  This Gothic Chain was almost certainly a present from the Empress to her grand-daughter who was born in 1812: Princess Amélie, daughter of Eugène and Augusta-Amélie. It could therefore be imagined that these carrying cases were designed for the Empress’s presents on the birth of her grand-daughter, though nothing can be claimed with any certainty. One fact remains: this malachite jewellery ensemble, which emerged from “Beauharnais circles”, is exceptional given that very few ensembles of this period have survived intact, and what is more, in their carrying case.

Karine Hugueneau and Marie de Bruchard, October 2018

Collier: H. 4; L. 45.3 cm – Belt: H. 3,5; L 35.5 cm – Bracelets: H. 2; L. 17.6 cm – Diadem: H. 4; L. 15 cm – Brooch: H. 3.8; L. 9.5 cm – Pins with small cameos: H. 5.3; L. 1.6 cm – Pins with large cameos: H. 5.3; L. 2.3 cm – Pins with pearls: H. 5.8; L. 2 cm

Date :
First Empire
Technique :
malachite cameos, fine pearls, yellow gold, tortoiseshell, red morocco
Place held :
Paris, Fondation Napoléon, inv. 973 (Lapeyre donation; acquisition in 1979 and 1980 (for the large necklace) by Martial Lapeyre in New York at Sotheby's)
Photo credit :
© Fondation Napoléon
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