Yesterday, we noted that Queen Mary and Queen Margrethe of Denmark both wore brooches with links to Princess Margaret of Connaught’s family on the anniversary of her birth. Today, we’re keeping the celebrations going with a close-up look at one of the most interesting tiaras she wore during her tenure as Crown Princess of Sweden: the Cameo Tiara.
Margaret of Connaught never owned the Cameo Tiara, but she wore it on more than one occasion. The tiara and the coordinating jewels from the matching parure were loaned to her by her husband’s uncle, Prince Eugen of Sweden, who had inherited the suite from his aunt, Princess Eugenie of Sweden. (Eugen eventually gave the parure to Margaret’s daughter-in-law, Princess Sibylla, as a wedding present.) Both Eugenie and Eugen were artists, and they would have keenly appreciated the craftsmanship that went in to the carving of the cameos in this jewelry set.
Indeed, the Cameo Tiara and its coordinating jewels are some of the most unusual and fascinating royal pieces still being worn today. The jewels now personally belong to King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, and the parure was placed on public display in 2023 to celebrate his Golden Jubilee. One of our lovely readers, Kristina Solberg, had the chance to visit the exhibition more than once during the jubilee year, and today, I’m featuring some of the excellent images that she has generously shared from her second visit to the cameos last month.
The Cameo Parure was made more than two centuries ago. The jewels were commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, then Emperor of France, for his first wife, Josephine de Beauharnais. He tasked some of his favorite Italian cameo makers, including Vincenzo Catenacci, Filippo Rega, and Giuseppe Girometti, to carve intricate miniature portraits and scenes from Greco-Roman mythology for the suite. Swedish jewelry historian Cecilia Andren has estimated that each individual cameo may have taken as long as a year to complete.
Many of the cameos included in the tiara are depictions of gods and goddesses, and some of them feature little tableaux that tell stories of passion and love. The central cameo in the tiara, for example, shows the goddess Venus disarming her impish son, Cupid. In the scene, the little winged god stretches up on his tiptoes to reach for his bow and arrows, which are held above his head by his mother. Another cameo shows Cupid sipping from a goblet offered by Bacchus, the god of wine.
Napoleon’s court jeweler, Marie-Étienne Nitot, is generally believed to be the artisan who placed the cameos in their present settings. The tiara from the parure is a genuine wonder. The individual cameos are ringed with pearls and set in a design of pearls and gold filigree. The unusual tiara does not include a single diamond in its construction, meaning that it doesn’t sparkle on the wearer—instead, it glows, especially when worn in luminous candlelight.
Nitot would have completed the suite of jewels before his death in 1809. The set also includes a necklace, which features cameos set in diamond clusters and strung together by strands of pearls. The diamond clasp of the necklace features the letter J in mirrored initials, surely a reference to Empress Josephine.
Originally, the necklace featured a fourth row of pearls between each cameo; those were removed at some point during the twentieth century. You’ll note that, in the portrait featured at the top of this article, the necklace has its fourth row when worn by Crown Princess Margareta.
The set also includes a pair of delicate cameo and diamond earrings, as well as a brooch that mimics the cameo, diamond, and pearl design of the necklace. All of the cameos used in the necklace, bracelet, and earrings feature portraits rather than tableaux. You’ll be able to recognize some features that identify the subjects as various gods and goddesses. On the bracelet, for example, there are wings emerging from the head of one of the figures, suggesting that the figure represented is Mercury, the winged messenger god of commerce. Beside him is a portrait of a goddess wearing a helmet emblazoned with a horse. That’s almost certainly a representation of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and justice.
The final component of the parure is an elaborate diamond brooch with another central portrait cameo. No gods or goddesses here. Swedish royal historian Goran Alm confirmed in a 2020 documentary that the subject of the portrait is none other than Napoleon Bonaparte himself.
From Empress Josephine, the cameos were passed down to her son, Prince Eugene, Duke of Leuchtenberg. His daughter, Queen Josefina of Sweden, brought the cameos with her to Stockholm. The exhibition included the famous Frederic Westin portrait of Josefina wearing the cameo tiara in the 1830s. Note how carefully he recreates the design of the central cameo in particular.
The exhibition also included a bust of Josephine’s mother, Princess Augusta of Bavaria. Eugene and Augusta had been named Prince and Prince of Venice by his stepfather, Napoleon, in 1807, but after Napoleon’s downfall, they were granted the titles Duke and Duchess of Leuchtenberg by her father, King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria.
Kristina also shared this lovely little miniature from the exhibition. It depicts Désirée Clary, who was Napoleon’s fiancée in 1795. He broke their engagement after meeting Josephine de Beauharnais. But Désirée, it turns out, was destined for great things of her own. She married one of Napoleon’s generals, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, and wore a gorgeous parure of diamond and ruby jewels for Napoleon and Josephine’s coronation in 1804. Six years later, Bernadotte was elected Crown Prince of Sweden, and in 1818, they became King Carl XIV Johan and Queen Desideria of Sweden. Today, the sovereigns of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and Luxembourg are all direct descendants of Désirée Clary.
The exhibition also included this much-reproduced composite portrait of the Bernadotte family made around 1908, a few months after King Gustaf V ascended to the throne of Sweden. King Gustaf and his wife, Queen Victoria, are seated beside his mother, the Dowager Queen Sofia, and surrounded by other members of the extended royal family. Gustaf and Victoria’s sons, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf (with Crown Princess Margareta, Prince Gustaf Adolf, and Prince Sigvard), Prince Wilhelm (with Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna), and Prince Erik are all included. So are the King’s uncles, Prince Oscar Bernadotte (with Princess Ebba, both seated), Prince Carl (with Princess Ingeborg, Princess Margaretha, Princess Märtha, and Princess Astrid), and Prince Eugen. And finally, the older woman to Queen Victoria’s left is Princess Teresia, the widow of the King’s great-uncle, Prince August.
Please join me in thanking Kristina for sharing her magnificent images of the Cameo Parure and the Golden Jubilee exhibition with all of us. The exhibition recently closed in Stockholm, so these pictures will allow all of us to continue to peek inside at the wonderful display whenever we’d like!