A gold, cameo and enamel diadem, belt clasp and belt ornament, Jacques-Ambroise Oliveras, circa 1805, some cameos possibly ancient

The diadem adorned with five oval hardstone cameos including: the head of Medusa, possibly late 16th century; a profile of Zeus, probably 18th century; a bust of Pan, probably 18th century; a head of Bacchus, probably 18th century; Gaia nursing a baby, possibly late 16th century. All within a border of blue enamel and connected by two rows of undulating entrelac de ruban motifs, each with a blue enamel lozenge motif at the centre, accompanied by a belt clasp of similar design, adorned with: possibly late 16th century, an agate cameo with the head of Medusa, and a belt ornament adorned with: 1780-1800, a hardstone cameo with a profile of Zeus, 1780-1800; mounted within a gold and blue enamel border, all with French assay marks, the diadem with maker's mark, in an original fitted case, inner length of diadem approximately 385mm, length of belt clasp approximately 123mm, height of belt ornament approximately 59mm.


By tradition Joséphine Bonaparte, Empress of France (1763- 1814);
Possibly acquired from the Empress Joséphine (or her estate) by Lord Edward Lascelles, “ Beau Lascelles” (1764-1814);
Thence by descent to his grand-niece Catherine, Mrs Granville Edwin Lloyd-Baker (1841-1890);
Thence by family descent to the previous owner
Sotheby’s London, Treasures, 7 December 2021, lot 14


London, Victoria and Albert Museum, on long term loan (ref: LOAN:MET ANON.101&A-1968)


C. Phillip, Jewels and Jewellery, England, 2019, pg. 72-74
S. Bury, Jewellery 1789-1910, Volume I 1789-1861, England, 1991, pg. 166
G. Munn, Tiaras A History of Splendour, England, 2001, pg. 36-37
M. Dernelle ed., Mémoires de Mlle. Avrillion, première femme de chambre de l’Imperatrice, 1986
Exhibition catalogue, De Pompeii à Malmaison: Les Antiques de l’Impératrice Joséphine, Malmaison 2009
Exhibition catalogue, France in Russia: Joséphine’s Malmaison Collection, Courtauld Institute, London 2007
J. Bury & J. Barry eds., An Englishman in Paris, 1803, Journal of Bertie Greatheed, 1953

Catalogue Note


Left: Empress Joséphine, Empress of the French (1763 - 1814)

Right: Caroline Bonaparte, queen of Naples (1782 - 1839)

These parures, made in Paris during the first decade of the nineteenth century, were by tradition given to the Empress Josephine by her sister-in-law Caroline Bonaparte, wife of General Murat and later Queen of Naples. The gift is likely to have included just the engraved gems, a possible combination of Roman examples dating from around 100 BC - 200 AD alongside contemporary Italian engravings, which were later mounted for Joséphine in Paris in the Neo-Classical taste - evident by the Parisian marks for 1798-1809 struck on the diadem and belt ornament in lot 14 (cameo tiara), as well as the maker’s mark of Jacques-Ambroise Oliveras. Oliveras’s mark (JAO with an olive - a pun on his name that we often see with French goldsmiths) was first registered in 1799-1800 at 48 Quai de la Mégisserie (Arminjon, 01517), and he was known for his skill in setting objects in gold and enamel, two known examples being the present lot and in a silver gilt and tortoiseshell hair comb set with Roman mosaics, sold by Christie’s London, 12th July 1983, lot 469. We see in these examples his expertise and finesse in setting glyptics and further research shows his interest in developing his techniques - the Repertory of Arts, Manufactures and Agriculture published in 1823, documenting the specifics of patent inventions - shows Oliveras register a patent for methods of applying gold colour without solder and steel upon gold.

In 1800, Caroline Bonaparte (1782-1839), the younger sister of Napoleon, married Joachim Murat, one of the most flamboyant and successful generals of the Napoleonic era. Having established his prowess on the battlefield during the French Revolutionary Wars, he joined Bonaparte in the French campaigns in Italy and Egypt, playing an important role in Bonaparte’s ‘coup within a coup’ of 18 Brumaire on the 9th November 1799, which saw Napoleon assume political power. His marriage to Napoleon’s sister Caroline further consolidated these close ties and bought him a series of titles, including that of the King of Naples in 1808.

As Queen of Naples, Caroline showed interest in not only politics (acting as regent whilst her husband was away at war) but also in economics and art. She looked to boost the local economy in renovating the palaces, employing local merchants and played an important role in the excavations of Pompeii. Like her brother, she knew how effective associations with Classical symbolism were in terms of legitimising an un-inherited claim to power, and therefore heavily patronised the excavations - escalating the pace considerably. Caroline’s personal collection of antiquities comprised of finds from most of Italy, including Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as patronising local gem engravers Teresa Talani and Filippo Rega, who created cameos and intaglios in the classical style. Pompeii and Herculaneum had been excavated by the Bourbon Kings of Naples since their discovery in the early 18th century, however the discoveries remained largely private and out of the public eye, an extract from the Quarterly Review in 1864 comments how ‘the excavations were carried out…on a limited scale. The greatest secrecy was maintained and no stranger could obtain admission to the ruins…such things were diligently searched for, and were sent off to the royal collections as soon as discovered’. Under French rule, the focus was precise and open, they looked to excavate Pompeii systematically, going from west to east and in some periods, employed as many as 600 workmen. Under Caroline’s patronage, the architect Francois Mazois published the most extensive report to date on Pompeii, drawing and measuring the ruins (something unheard of until now) and his publication was transmitted across Europe, acting as one of the most important sources of classical antiquity. Historians have trivialised Caroline’s involvement as a silly fancy, yet her sustained interest in the archaeology is further evidence of her participation in contemporary political culture and the gift of the carved gems to Joséphine may have been both a fashionable present as well as taking on a personal note relating to a subject particularly close to her heart. A more cynical view is that Caroline was using this gift as a demonstration of power and status – the once illiterate girl from Corsica now royalty in her own right, and of a Kingdom of extreme riches.

The relationship between Caroline and Joséphine has been reported as not particularly close, however this is not strictly true. At 19 years her senior, Joséphine displayed a sort of motherly affection towards Caroline, who was a former schoolmate of Joséphine’s daughter Hortense de Beauharnais. When the 17 year old Caroline fell in love with one of her brothers generals – Joachim Murat, Napoleon initially did not wish them to marry, and it is reported that Joséphine persuaded him to change his mind, hoping to secure an ally amongst the Bonaparte siblings. Joséphine helped care for Caroline during her first pregnancy, writing to Murat on the 16th December 1800 after Napoleon had sent him to command the army in Italy – “I have received news from you with great pleasure, my dear little brother, and I hope to receive them more often. We talk every day of you with your dear Caroline, who, in spite of all her courage, can’t help tearing up whenever your name is mentioned… You can count on me, my dear little brother, I would not leave her alone from the first moment she gets into labour. I am inclined to give all the possible proofs of my tenderness towards my dear and kind little sister; besides, she is like a daughter that my heart has adopted”.

It is not known why exactly the bond between Caroline and Joséphine soured, but the general consensus is that the relationship fell victim to feuding between the Bonaparte’s and de Beauharnais families. Competitive and egotistical, Caroline and her sisters were insecure about their position socially, having been raised in relative obscurity in Corsica, compared to the aristocratic upbringing of Joséphine. There was much competition for favour and attention from Napoleon, who’s fondness for Joséphine’s family was seen as a threat to the interests of the Bonaparte’s. Caroline and Murat would continuously undermine Joséphine’s position, spreading rumours about her infertility and introducing Napoleon to various mistresses, including Eléanore Denuelle (who would later bear Napoleon a child), triggering events that would eventually culminate in their divorce in 1810.


The fascination for neo-classical design reached its zenith under Napoléon Bonaparte’s (1796-1821) regime and his marriage to Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814). Bonaparte’s rise to power at the turn of the 18th century provided a much needed impetus to the luxury industries following the French Revolution and its aftermath. More specifically, we see an end to the terrible hiatus in jewellery workshops’ output and a renewed interest in this field.

As a great exponent of Imperial Rome’s methods of government, Bonaparte sought to underpin his leadership and influence through association with the historical and cultural references of ancient Rome. A great patron of the arts, he harnessed them as a tool to serve and further the Empire and his objectives, thus establishing and legitimising his authority as a leader. This was of particular importance given that divine-right sovereignty was no longer the legal basis for leadership. As such, it was imperative that the French public bought into the image of a powerful and well governed Empire. The country was therefore presented with highly idealised images of Napoleon in various heroic poses littered with neo-classical motifs. These scenes were usually based closely on depictions of his highly admired Roman predecessors.

Andrea Appiani’s ‘Apotheosis of Napoleon’ (1807) is a faultless execution of the propagandistic style of Napoleonic painting, depicting Bonaparte seated upon a throne, torso bare, with a laurel wreath upon his head. His muscular, idealised physique and the toga draped over his legs all nod to ancient classical sculptures, drawing parallels between himself and the all-powerful Roman Empire.

Andrea Appiani (1754-1817) ‘Apotheosis of Napoleon’,1807, Palazzo Reale, Milan

‘Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne’ (1806) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is another striking example. The crown of golden laurel leaves makes a direct link with past Roman Emperors. Napoléon was the new Augustus Caesar and, like him, clearly understood the power of the arts and how to exploit this in order to influence public perception and generate admiration for his style of governing.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867) Napoleon on his Imperial throne, 1806 Musée de l’Armée, Paris

As a result, there was a transition of collective taste towards classical simplicity, rejecting the previous century’s penchant for elaborate embellishment. Joséphine was one of the great proponents of this new look. Like her husband, she understood the value of her public image; her choices in clothes and jewels were a conscious strategy to evoke the ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, linking it with the current Empire to enhance the prestige of her husband’s regime. The ideal of female beauty was to model oneself on the ancient Greek sculptures in all their simple purity. Women would abstain from any sort of fashion which might pose as a distraction from the female form. Some of the most avid followers of neo-classical style would dampen their Roman inspired tunics so that the fabric clung to the body. In stark contrast to the previous epoque, hairstyles were adopted from the Greco-Roman world with curls swept off the face, gathered at the top of the head; the styles became known as à la Grecque, à la Titus or à la Cérès.

Napoleon's Coronation Crown in the Louvre, Paris (image © David Liuzzo)

The couple were renowned for their lavish entertainment and extravagant taste. In just six years Joséphine spent an impressive sum of over 25,000,000 francs on jewellery and clothes, far exceeding her designated allowance. The jewellery trade directly benefited from their appetite for grandeur and luxury which had a marked influence on the French court. Napoleon succeeded in reviving the jewellery trade by insisting that courtiers were brilliantly bejewelled. Favoured jewellers included Nitot, Foncier, Mellerio-Meller, as well as cameo dealers. This renaissance of luxury craftsmanship was further encouraged by a series of national exhibitions staged to showcase the very best of France’s industries. Jewellers began to prosper once again.

Engraved gems surged in popularity during this period, stimulated by 18th century discoveries and excavations of ancient sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum. As a result of the 1796 Italian campaign, cameos, many of Greek or Roman origin, were transported back from Italy to France. The Directorate was captivated by the intricate beauty of these carved gemstones, appreciating each as a miniature work of art in their own right. He also admired the portrait cameo, recognising its potential as a political and diplomatic tool. Bonaparte’s portrait was incorporated extensively in this medium to signal an explicit connection with his rule and the values of ancient Rome. Indeed, he chose a number of the finest examples to be mounted into jewels. We can see this exemplified in Napoleon’s coronation crown, created by the official court goldsmith, Martin-Guillaume Biennais. The arched crown is studded with a large number of ancient portrait cameos chosen to emphasise this affiliation with past Roman rulers. He went on to commission his own likeness to be carved into stone and distributed in order to bolster public support for the empire. Quintessential Roman motifs, laurel leaf crown and cloak, were included. Napoleon’s interest in the glyptic arts culminated in founding a school in Paris to instruction the engraving of semi-precious stones and, from 1805, extending the Prix de Rome to include gem engravers.

Joséphine possessed an extensive and well curated collection of antiquities; mostly recovered from Pompei or Herculaneum, the collection included Etruscan vases, statues, carved busts, as well as cameos and intaglios. Like Napoleon, Joséphine was particularly enthused with carved gems. Her children, Eugène (1781-1824) and Hortense de Beauharnais (1783-1837), would always endeavour to bring them back from their Italian trips. Joséphine chose a selection of cameos to be mounted into jewellery, while the remaining largest and most precious were displayed in cases.

‘Les camées et les pierres gravées, qu’elle apprécie surtout entourés de diamants et de perles fines, mais qu’elle accepte même sans entourage’, [She especially appreciated cameos and engraved gems which were surrounded by diamonds and fine pearls, but she would even accept them without any surround] such was her love of cameos.

The two diadems offered here, which are thought to have been part of the empress’s collection, are exceptional examples of 19th century neo-classical workmanship which incorporated engraved gemstones into their design. Engraved gemstones were believed to endow the wearer with their various depicted qualities such as heroism, faithfulness and love; as a result, they became enormously popular in French society. As stated in Diana Scarisbrick’s essay the Journal des Dames, dated 25th day of Ventôse 1805 describes how the ideal Napoleonic woman should incorporate the cameo into her wardrobe: ‘A fashionable woman wears cameos on her belt, cameos on her necklace, a cameo on each of her bracelets, a cameo on her diadem… ancient stones, and, failing them, carved shells, are more and more fashionable than ever’. In ‘Joséphine, impératrice et reine’, Frédéric Masson notes how ‘dans les grandes occasions, elle [Joséphine] préfère ses camées même au diamants et aux pierres de couleur’ (Masson, p357, 1905, Paris). The painting ‘Joséphine de Beauharnais’ by Appiani and busts by Houdon and Chaudet illustrate how the empress incorporated cameos into her wardrobe. Masson goes on to detail how she would secure her green velvet riding jacket with a gold belt decorated with cameos.

Napoleon and Joséphine’s patronage of the arts was intrinsic to the establishment of design during the regime. Both sought to affirm their power through image and in the same vein as Napoleon, the ambitious Joséphine had images of herself recreated in every medium, including that of cameos. It was ‘L’affirmation, la consécration, l’éternisation de sa figure’ (Masson: 374, Paris, 1905) [the affirmation, the consecration, the eternization of her image] It must be said that, according to ‘Inventaire après décès de l’impératrice Joséphine à Malmaison’ by Serge Grandjean, Joséphine’s collection ‘ne soit guère connue dans ses détails, en dépit de certains témoignages contemporains unanimement flatteurs’ [was hardly known in any details apart from a number of unanimously flattering testimonies]. In addition, she was notorious for modifying, rejuvenating, exchanging and selling her pieces, making tracing and establishing firm provenance extremely challenging. The inventories of her jewellery show that whilst Joséphine had a great collection of cameos and intaglios – there were no details of the subjects represented or the signatures. After Joséphine’s death Hortense inherited a portion of her mother’s property, including jewellery, while Eugène inherited Malmaison. He kept the estate intact until financial difficulties forced him to sell part of the inheritance in an anonymous sale in Paris. Following Eugène’s death his widow, Princess Augusta-Amélie de Bavière, did not want the responsibility of such a large property and, in 1829, sold a substantial portion of the remaining collection in a sale comprising 17 sessions, each without a catalogue.

We can compare this to the cameo parure, now part of the Swedish royal collection, which was originally given to Joséphine by Napoleon in 1809. https://royalwatcherblog.com/2021/06/07/swedish-cameo-parure/

These are mostly 19th century carvings, by artists such as Rega and Girometti, and were individually carved and not necessarily intended to be worn together. As with the present lots, when an inventory of jewels was taken upon Joséphine’s death in 1814, the cameo parure was not mentioned. It is believed that it was inherited by her son, Eugène de Beauharnais who then gave it to his daughter Joséphine upon her marriage to King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway in 1823. The current lots are extremely rare survivors from an Imperial age, since when many of these magnificent pieces have been disassembled as tastes have changed. It begs the question, could these two diadems have been included in the many undocumented sales or in the same vein as the Swedish cameo parure?