Princess Mathilde Bonaparte’s corsage brooch

Designed as a large sculpted rose blossom, entirely decorated by old European, old mine and rose-cut diamonds, mounted in silver-topped gold.

According to historical documents the brooch contains “2,637 brilliants for 136 cts and 860 little roses not weighed”.

Throughout the nineteenth century, flowers proliferated in jewellery design but the one image that was most reproduced and most loved, was the rose selected not only for its beauty but also for its symbolism of love. Perhaps the one jewel that epitomizes this flower is the corsage ornament that was formerly in the collection of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, niece of Napoleon I. Roses would always be a part of her life. As a young woman, admiring young men would press a rose petal on her check to see whether it was possible to distinguish the petal from her cheek. Fittingly, when she died, a rose was placed beside her.

Princess Mathilde was an intelligent woman whose literary and artistic salon in Paris was the most distinguished during the Second Empire. Notables such as Marcel Proust, Gustave Flaubert and Jean-Auguste Ingres attended her lavish receptions. Both salons were decorated with Ming vases filled with roses. In chateau de Saint-Gratien, nineteen miles from Paris, she felt at home, tending her rose garden. Perhaps it was caring for these flowers that prompted her to purchase the corsage ornament from Theodore Fester. This splendid jewel captures the essence of the rose; a freshly opened flower in the center, surrounded by two buds and several leaves that curl naturalistically. The short stem completes the perfect life-like form.

After Princess Mathilde’s death in 1904, her jewels were auctioned at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. It was purchased by Janesich, a French jeweller and subsequently, sold by Cariter to Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt, III, Queen of New York Society. It became her signature jewel. The corsage ornament was her preferred piece for formal portraits where she would wear it either on the bodice or at her waist.

The corsage ornament remained in Mrs Vanderbilt’s collection. Many years later after her death it was acquired by Fred Leighton, a connoisseur of fine jewellery and a taste maker of nineteenth of twentieth century styles.

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