French & Continental Furniture

Discover Spectacular Treasures from the Bourbon-Parma Family

By Sotheby's
In November 2018 a record-breaking Geneva sale brought to auction some of the most important collections of royal jewels and revealed the fascination for historic treasures from the Bourbon-Parma family. The 55 items offered in this January’s Royal & Noble sale further highlight the family’s interest in collecting, not only jewels, but also paintings, porcelain services and silver tableware.

D escended from Louis XIV of France, the Holy Roman Emperors and from Pope Paul III, the Bourbon-Parma family, founded in 1749 by Philip of Spain, is linked by blood to the most important ruling families of Europe - from the Bourbons to the Habsburgs. Members of the lineage include Kings of France and Spain, Emperors of Austria and the Dukes of Parma.

The sale opens with silverware previously owned by Maria-Luisa, Empress of France and Duchess of Parma, the eldest child of the Habsburg Emperor Francis II of Austria. Following her marriage in 1795 to her first cousin, Louis of Bourbon-Parma, heir to the Dukedom of Parma, she became Queen of Etruria and Duchess of Lucca. She later became Napoleon's second wife and, as such, Empress of France from 1810 to 1814 and ruler of the Duchy of Parma from 1814 until her death.

The silver dishes, wine coolers, and porcelain services offered in the sale are associated with the most essential human activities: eating, drinking and socialising. While we often take them for granted today, they were visible day-to-day expressions of a person's taste and status. It was common to include decorative features such as family crests or markings on dishes and flatware services, to remind guests of the status and heritage of their host.

Commissions were also assigned by the Bourbon Parma family to the most important and skillful artists of the time. For example, Maria Isabella, Infanta of Spain, wife of King Francesco I of Bourbon, is known to have commissioned the Italian Raffaele Giovine to produce several decorative objects as gifts for her husband, a great admirer of Giovine’s work. For instance, among the star lots is a rare pair of Royal portrait vases, almost certainly made by the Nast porcelain manufacture in Paris and decorated in Naples by Giovine.

These objects were imbued with complex symbolic meanings. Surely they were objects that promoted a certain status, but they were also loved personal objects, often offered as gifts, and thus with sentimental values. The aforementioned vases here portray Maria Isabella and King Francesco I of Bourbon surrounded by portraits of ten of their children as well as coats of arms and crowned initials.

The family’s interest in smaller collectibles such as coins, boxes and curiosities, is expressed in objects like this coral and silver mount ornament with Saint George and Saint Hubert.

Other smaller items of interest include folding fans, an art form, which unlike many, elegantly combines functional, ceremonial and decorative uses. Throughout the 17th century, folding fans gained more and more popularity over fixed fans and the variety of subjects depicted on fan leaves and the choice of materials became increasingly varied.

Like fans, etchings operated as portable mediums reflecting and promoting the tastes of the time and were popular in aristocratic circles. In the 1680s and 1690s, prints and etchings, like those of the French engraver Nicolas Bonnart (1636-1718), commonly combined illustrations with short texts about clothing or the wearer.

Closing the group of property owned by the Royal family are two paintings, one of the Virgin and Child with a rosary and the other of Salvador Mundi, both painted after the long lost paintings by the early Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden.

These fascinating lots reflect the splendour of one of Europe’s most important royal dynasties that became important tastemakers and patrons of the arts. Watch a video here and see the highlights slideshow here.

CLICK HERE to view the full sale catalogue

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