Royal jewels auction in Europe
The jewels of Marie-Antoinette
Never in the course of history has the destiny of a queen been so closely associated with jewels than that of Marie Antoinette. Her great love of pearls and diamonds is well known and a number of historians have cited Napoleon’s view, that the so-called “affair of the diamond necklace” – a scandal which tarnished the queen’s reputation in 1785 – was one of the causes of the French Revolution.
The impressive ensemble of jewels to be offered this autumn has an extraordinary story. In March 1791, King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their children began to prepare their escape from France. According to accounts written by Marie Antoinette’s lady in waiting, Madame Campan, the queen spent an entire evening in the Tuileries Palace wrapping all of her diamonds, rubies and pearls in cotton and placing them in a wooden chest. In the following days, the jewels were sent to Brussels,
which was under the rule of the queen’s sister, Archduchess Marie-Christine and which was home to Count Mercy Argentau. The count, the former Austrian Ambassador to Paris, was one of the only men who had retained the queen’s trust. It was he who took delivery of the jewels and sent them on to Vienna, into the safe keeping of the Austrian Emperor, Marie Antoinette’s nephew.
In 1792, the royal family was imprisoned in the Temple tower. Louis XVI and Marie- Antoinette were executed by guillotine in 1793 and their 10-year old son, Louis XVII, died in captivity. The king and queen’s only surviving child, Marie-Thérèse de France (1778-1851), ‘Madame Royale’, was released in December 1795, after three years of solitary confinement. After learning of the deaths of her mother and brother, she was sent to Austria. Upon her arrival in Vienna in 1796, she was given her mother’s jewels by her cousin, the emperor. Having borne no children of her own, Madame Royale bequeathed part of her jewellery collection to her niece and adopted daughter, Louise of France (1819–1864), Duchess of Parma and grand-daughter of Charles X, King of France (1757-1836), who in turn left them to her son, Robert I (1848-1907), the last ruling Duke of Parma.
Renowned for her extravagance and the splendour and lavishness of her court, Marie- Antoinette is very often portrayed wearing pearls. A symbol of wealth and status since time immemorial because of their great beauty and rarity, natural pearls, were prized by the royal families of Europe in the 18th century.
Treasures from the Habsburgs and the Dukes of Parma
The illustrious jewels to be offered in November also bear witness to the family’s connections with the House of Habsburg, one of the most influential royal dynasties of Europe. Reigning over the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, the Habsburgs also occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire and produced emperors and kings whose dominions included Germany, England, Spain, Holland and Italy.
A highlight of this group is a diamond tiara of foliate scroll design given by Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916), one of Europe’s longest reigning monarchs, to his great-niece, Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria (1882-1940) for her wedding to Elias of Bourbon, Duke of Parma (1880–1959) in 1902.
Most of the jewels in the collection were given to Robert I (1848- 1907), the last sovereign Duke of Parma and Piacenza, by his mother, Louise of France (1819-1864), grand-daughter of King Charles X of France and great-niece of Marie Antoinette. Robert I also received exceptional jewels from his paternal grand-mother, Maria-Teresa of Savoy, Duchess of Parma (1803-1879).
For her wedding to Robert I, Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies (1849–1882) received from her husband’s grand-father, Charles II of Parma a large diamond pendeloque brooch.