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Global Briefing Highlights

A Newly Ordered World Jewellery from the Napoleonic Era


Pforzheim Jewellery Museum | 19 October 2019 through 1 March 2020

Napoleon Bonaparte fundamentally changed the political geography of Europe, radically and lastingly transforming the continent’s civic landscape within a very short timespan. 2019 marks the anniversary of his birthday: 250 years have gone by since the birth of the French general, politician and emperor. Like Alexander von Humboldt, who revolutionised people’s view of nature, and developed modern, interdisciplinary scientific perspectives, as shown in the museum’s previous exhibition, Napoleon, too, significantly contributed to shaping our modern world. »Napoleon’s personality and farsightedness are still fascinating. In his Code civil(back then called Code Napoléon), the equality of all people as declared during the French Revolution was codified – at least for the men –, and neither the aristocracy nor the clergy were favoured merely due to their social status any longer,« explains Cornelie Holzach, the director of Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum. The show will be spotlighting Napoleon’s influence, as well as the jewellery and fashion of his era, which were undergoing major changes. Visitors can look forward to admiring about 150 exhibits, including pieces created by Chaumet, Napoleon’s court jeweller. Numerous pictures will be showing how Napoleon presented himself and had himself depicted and, exhibited alongside documents, as well as utilitarian and luxury items, will be giving visitors an impression of his epoch.

Foto und Copyright: Winfried Reinhardt

Jewellery created in Napoleon’s era
The jewellery of Napoleon’s era was very different from that created before the French Revolution: it was more unobtrusive, but no less precious. Its formal idiom was reminiscent of the Biedermeier style: delicate and, unlike the pompous Baroque jewellery, sleekly simple and finely crafted, gilded and sometimes embellished with intaglios and laurel leaves. »We’ll also be showcasing fashion lithographs and magazines to illustrate the correlation between jewellery, fashion and politics. The garments worn during the Ancien Régime, comprising breeches and wigs, corsets and crinoline dresses, were entirely unfashionable and no longer wearable after the political change. The beginning of the Directory in 1795 brought about the development of a distinctive, antiquity-driven Parisian fashion. Women were now wearing short-sleeved dresses with a high waistline, whose cuts and designs required new types of jewellery. Napoleon was an aficionado of cameos and intaglios in the classical antique style which, in addition to symbolising his imperial aspirations, highlighted the gemstones’ multi-layered structure to perfection,« says co-curator Martina Eberspächer. Fabrics were often enhanced with a bee motif that, in a sense, was symbolic of a turning away from the royalist lily.

Another facet is Berlin Iron Jewellery: during the period of the Napoleonic Wars of Liberation 1813–1815, ladies were asked to donate their precious metal jewellery and exchange it for iron jewellery. In line with the motto »I gave gold for iron«, they regarded themselves as patriots for the rescue of the fatherland. »These interrelationships between the arts and crafts and politics can be appositely spotlighted by this exhibition; that’s what I find particularly exciting about it,« says Martina Eberspächer, adding: »We’ll be presenting an overview of the Napoleonic era, which brought about fundamental societal changes within a relatively short period of 15 years and, during these highly dramatic years, also inspired the creation of superbly crafted objects. In Baden-Württemberg particularly, whose precursor states were being contoured back then, the Napoleonic era had far-reaching consequences.

The life and achievements of the French emperor
Born in the Corsican capital, Ajaccio, in 1769, Napoleone Buonaparte was a descendant of an Italian family of minor nobility. He had seven siblings. Thanks to a scholarship for impoverished students of noble lineage, he was able to attend a military school, where his strategic skills and his will to power soon led to his meteoric rise. Napoleon knew how to translate his successes on the battlefields into political power and, by marrying Joséphine Beauharnais, a noblewoman who had close links with the Parisian high society, he also climbed the social ladder. In 1799, Napoleon overthrew the revolutionary government and became First Consul. In 1804, he published the Code Civilas the first code of civil law in France, which was soon adopted by other states as well, thus translating the Revolution’s central notion of liberty into a legal form that is still valid today. In the same year, he appointed himself emperor and started his wars of expansion. In 1809, he divorced Joséphine because their marriage remained childless, and married the Austrian emperor’s daughter Marie Louise with whom he had his only legitimate son Napoleon II. In 1812, his Russian Campaign ended in disaster, and a year later he lost the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig. He escaped from his exile on the island of Elba, but he suffered a crushing defeat at Waterloo and was banned to the British island of St. Helena, where he died in 1821. The German poet Heinrich Heine wrote: »Napoleon is not made of the wood used to carve kings – he is made of the marble used to make gods.«

For more details www.schmuckmuseum.de