This weekend in Stockholm, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden celebrated his 77th birthday at the Royal Palace. It’s also the King’s Golden Jubilee year, and inside the palace, a special exhibition is showcasing some of the most important jewels in the monarch’s personal collection.
In March, a new exhibition, Vasa to Bernadotte, opened at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. The palace’s official website calls it “the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged at the Royal Palace of Stockholm,” part of a “double jubilee” celebration happening this year in Sweden. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the election of King Gustaf I (from the House of Vasa) and the 50th anniversary of the accession of King Carl XVI Gustaf (from the House of Bernadotte). Numerous artifacts and objects are on display, including the family’s spectacular Cameo Parure.
While many of the grand royal jewels in Sweden belong to a family foundation, the Cameo Parure is personally owned by the King. The palace emphasizes in the exhibition that a public display of the parure is exceptionally rare. The set has been owned by Swedish royals for generations. Its roots, like many Bernadotte jewels, can be found in Napoleonic France.
In 1809, Napoleon commissioned the set for Empress Joséphine. The cameos themselves were carved by several talented Italian artists, including Giuseppe Girometti, Vincenzo Catenacci, and Filippo Rega. The original suite of jewelry included the tiara, necklace, earrings, and bracelet, with the diamond and cameo brooch added to the set later. The fitted case in which the necklace, earrings, bracelet, and brooch are now housed features a section shaped like a comb, suggesting that a comb was included originally in the grouping of jewels but was separated from the rest of the parure at some point. (The brooch now sits in that comb-shaped section of the case.)
Joséphine bequeathed the cameos to her only son, Eugène de Beauharnais, the 1st Duke of Leuchtenberg. His daughter, Princess Joséphine of Leuchtenberg, took the set with her to Stockholm when she married the future King Oscar I of Sweden in 1823—two hundred years ago this spring. The exhibition also includes this famous portrait of the younger Joséphine wearing the Cameo Tiara.
Joséphine left the cameos to her daughter, Princess Eugénie of Sweden. She chose not to marry or have children, and when she died, the cameos were inherited by her nephew, Prince Eugen of Sweden (the fourth and youngest son of King Oscar II and Queen Sofia of Sweden). In 1932, Eugen gave the cameos to Princess Sibylla (mother of the present king) as a wedding present. She bequeathed the set to her son, and it remains in King Carl XVI Gustaf’s personal collection today.
Two of our lovely readers, Kristina and Andreas, have been able to visit the jubilee exhibition, and they’ve kindly shared their photographs of the jewels with all of us. (I’m always so grateful to readers like them who allow us all to travel the world together and see these exhibitions through their eyes!)
The cameos from the tiara really glow in the exhibition light. The tiara’s cameos and seed pearls are set in red-hued gold. It’s a rare tiara that doesn’t include a single diamond.
The cameos throughout the set—with one notable exception—depict figures and scenes from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. Venus is shown disarming Cupid in the tiara’s central cameo, while others set in the diadem depict Bacchus and Cupid. Overall, the tiara features stories of love and passion—which has made it an especially appropriate choice for the many royal brides who have worn it on their wedding days.
This photograph shows the tiara from a high angle, showcasing the luminosity of the cameos.
Here’s an excellent view of the necklace from the set. Three rows of pearls connect the trio of diamond-ringed cameos.
And here are the earrings and the bracelet. The figures depicted in the bracelet’s cameos include the gods Mercury (Hermes) and Minerva (Athena).
And here’s the elaborate diamond and cameo brooch from the suite. As I mentioned above, this is generally accepted to be a later addition to the set.
Interestingly, while the other cameos from the suite depict figures from mythology, the brooch is set with a cameo depicting Napoleon himself.
Visitors to Stockholm can buy tickets to the Vasa to Bernadotte exhibition through January 7, 2024. It sounds like a particularly fun way to get involved with Sweden’s jubilee celebrations!