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An imperial parure

An imperial parure: the Louvre has achieved a remarkable coup by purchasing—for the highest price ever paid by a museum for items of jewellery—the necklace and earrings which formed part of the emerald parure commissioned by Napoleon for the Empress Marie Louise in 1810. Diana Scarisbrick explains their significance
The Amis du Louvre have recently acquired a necklace and pair of emerald and diamond earrings that were part of a parure given by Napoleon I to the Empress Marie Louise at the time of their marriage, in March 1810. Since the price was 3.7 million euros is the highest ever paid by an institution for items of jewellery, one might well ask what is so special about these two pieces, which were acquired from Humphrey Butler and S.J. Phillips of London, and from Thomas Faerber of Geneva.

(1) The answer is that the combination of the intrinsic value of the stones, the artistry of the setting and the imperial provenance justifies the kind of price which is more usually paid for paintings and sculpture. The magnificent quality illustrates how Napoleon, perhaps the last great patron of the arts, used jewellery to assert by peaceful means the absolute political authority he had won by his sword. To this end he insisted that the court ceremonies of the Empire take place in an atmosphere of the utmost splendour and brilliance, obtainable by grandiose displays of precious stones. This reached an apogee at the time of his marriage to the Habsburg Archduchess Marie Louise. Then, as Balzac describes in La Paix du Menage, ‘Diamonds glittered everywhere, so much so that it seemed as if the wealth of the whole world was concentrated on Paris… never had the diamond been so sought after, never had it cost so much.’

At the same time, Napoleon wished tore-establish the preeminence of Paris as the creative centre for luxury and fashion, a status it had lost in the period of anarchy which followed the Revolution. The scale of his patronage and that of the dignitaries of the Empire was such that by 1807, the Chambre de Commerce reported that there were 400 jewellers, employing 800 men and 2000 women in business in the city.

(2) It was one of these, Marie Etienne Nitot, whom Napoleon, with his sure judgment, appointed as his court jeweller.