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A Newly Ordered World - Treasures From the Napoleonic Era

Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum is marking the life and times of one of history’s most iconic figures. Napoleon Bonaparte fundamentally changed the political geography of Europe, radically and lastingly transforming the continent’s civic landscape within a very short timespan. 

2019 marked 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, 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. The exhibition, which started in October 2019, spotlights 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 Nitot, Napoleon’s court jeweller. Numerous pictures show how Napoleon presented himself and had himself depicted and, exhibited alongside documents, as well as utilitarian and luxury items, are giving visitors an impression of his epoch.


The jewellery of Napoleon’s era was very different from that created before the French Revolution: it was more unobtrusive, but no less precious; rather, it was even more valuable. 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. Diadems and representative necklaces created back then will be on show, as well as a golden dinner service, plus a belt typical of the time, enhanced with malachite and intaglios, which was fastened at the wearer’s back with silk bands, thus gathering the fashionable, gently flowing dresses below the bosom. 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. Fabrics were often enhanced with a bee motif that, in a sense, was symbolic of a turning away from the royalist lily. 

The exhibition presents 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.   E

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