The Swedish royal family, known as the House of Bernadotte, has an enviable collection of jewels in their vaults, many of which boast an esteemed provenance. But one particular set—a matching tiara, necklace, earrings, and brooch known as the Cameo Parure—stands out among the rest.
The parure, which in recent years has been worn by Queen Silvia, and, memorably, by Crown Princess Victoria on the day of her royal wedding, is characterized by a series of cameos, or individual carvings, which reference Greek mythology. This alone makes the jewels notable, as most tiaras and the like seen these days are set with diamonds and rubies and emeralds and any number of other precious stones, not cameos—but the real intrigue behind the set lies with its original owner: Empress Joséphine, Napoleon Bonaparte's first wife.
"The Swedish royals come from the world of Napoleonic France," explains Lauren Kiehna, the royal jewelry expert behind the blog the Court Jeweller. "The dynasty was founded by Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's military leaders, who was elected King of Sweden. They're also directly descended from Josephine through her son, Eugène de Beauharnais. His daughter was [Joséphine of Leuchtenberg, Queen of Sweden], and she brought numerous family pieces to the Swedish collection." (Kiehna notes that Vincent Meylan and the makers of the documentary Kungliga Smycken can be thanked for first connecting the Cameo Parure to Joséphine.)
The set is thought to have been made for Empress Joséphine shortly after her marriage to Napoleon, and is very much in keeping with the styles in vogue with the Napoleonic Court.
"The tiara and coordinating pieces are set with cameos made by some of Napoleon's favorite artists," Kiehna says. "Napoleon liked to depict himself with imagery that called back to ancient rulers of Greece and Italy, and some of the cameos depict figures from Greco-Roman mythology. Neoclassical items like these jewels were exceptionally popular at Napoleon's imperial court."
The tiara also, Kiehna points out, "manages to be impressive without the use of a single diamond." Perhaps that's why, even centuries later, the Cameo Parure continues to fascinate.
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