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Friday, August 03, 2012


We're continuing with our series of posts by the Rosenbach's amazing interns. This one follows the French theme of the past few weeks.


Hello Readers!  My name is Kat and I am a Collections Intern for the summer here at the Rosenbach. I have a B.A. in History from Temple University and a keen interest in historic clothes and accessories. This year I have been swept up in the recent commemorations of the 200 year anniversary of the War of 1812. With such background and interests, it is no wonder that this Empire Era hair comb in the Rosenbach collection caught my attention.

Tiara. c. 1800-1825. Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.1877a.
The tiara, or hair comb, is gilded metal set with amethysts and faux pearls surrounded by carvings of leaves and geometric shapes.  Such a comb would be part of a set of jewels, called a parure, consisting of a necklace, earrings, bracelets and brooches.  Ladies would set this comb in front of a high chignon or set of curls, as seen in this painting of Bonaparte sisters by Jacques-Louis David.

Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of the sisters Zenaide and Charlotte Bonaparte. 1821. In the collection of the Getty Museum. Photograph by Ed Bierman. Made available under Attribution 2.0 license.

Speaking of the Bonapartes, this hair comb has a possible connection to the famous family!  Paperwork accompanying the comb at the time of sale claims it was the property of a great grand niece of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Though this cannot be substantiated, there is no doubt that this style of the comb would have fit right in with the fashions prevalent during Napoleon’s reign.

After the French Revolution, simplicity in dress was the order of the day.  Neo-classical styles featuring Roman and Egyptian influences were made popular by Napoleon’s beloved wife, Josephine.  She is seen here wearing a classical styled tiara and gown:

George Cruikshank, Napoleon, When First Consul & Madam Josephine (His First Wife) in the garden at Malmaison. 1824.  Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.1880.1673
The hair comb from the collection has a simple crescent shape similar to those seen on Greek and Roman statues of goddesses from antiquity.  Influences of classical design can also be seen in the leaf pattern set between rows of amethysts.  The leaf motif, reminiscent of the laurel wreath crowns worn by Roman emperors of the Classical age, was a popular ornamental design during the Empire period.  Napoleon himself was often depicted wearing this popular symbol.  In the following engraving, he wears a military hat with gold embroidered leaf swags.  
David Edwin, Napoleon Buonaparte. Philadelphia: C. and A. Conrad & Co, 1809-1810. Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.1178
With engravings widely circulated in books (as this one was) and sold in shops, Napoleon may have intentionally used his image in the media to connect himself with powerful ancient rulers to strengthen his political image.

The recent British royal wedding between William and Catherine of Britain has brought tiaras back into the spotlight. It is interesting to note that many of today’s tiaras are made with the same leaf designs made popular thousands of years ago, connecting countless generations through art and design.

Kathryn Stelzer has a B.A. in History from Temple University and previously interned at the Cairnwood Estate in Bryn Athyn.

1 comment:

Robin said...

What a gorgeous Tiara! And a beautifully written article.