Kind hearts and coronets
The export of a sapphire-and-diamond coronet of medieval form made for Queen Victoria in 1842 has been temporarily stopped, in the hope that it can be bought for the nation. Diana Scarisbrick sets this treasure in the context of the romantic enthusiasm fo
ONE of the many attractions of antique jewellery is its power to evoke the lives and personalities of the original owners. This is particularly true of the sapphire-and-diamond coronet created for Queen Victoria by the jeweller Joseph Kitching in 1842 (Fig 1). The granting of an export licence for this treasure has been delayed, to allow time for a British collection to raise £5million to purchase it.
Surmounted by trefoil-shaped royal fleurons, the coronet is not only a statement of sovereignty, but also an expression of the Queenõs sense of history, an interest she shared with Prince Albert. Of Plantagenet inspiration in design, it was intended to encircle a chignon at the back of the head, in a manner similar to a pearl coronet worn by Queen Henrietta Maria in a portrait by Hendrik van Steenwyck of about 1630 (Fig 2).
As a favourite jewel, it appears in F. X. Winterhalterõs first portrait of Queen Victoria, painted in 1842 (Fig 3), and again in a miniature by Robert Thornton, which was copied in Berlin porcelain for her Jewel Cabinet (Fig 4), made in 1851, where it is partnered with a fine miniature of Albert. Epitomising the spirit of English Romanticism, she wears a medievalising gown with slashed sleeves and he is dressed in armour, like a knight in a tournament.
During the youth of the royal couple, this new artistic language emerged to influence costume, coiffures and jewellery. Although there is no direct evidence that the coronet was designed by Prince Albert, it embodies the tastes he shared with the Queen. Romanticism brought a veneration for history and, through its master novelist, Sir Walter Scottñthe Queenõs Ôbeau idéal of a poetõñ the lives and characters of past times caught the imagination of the young Victoria.
This led her to mark her Coronation in 1837 with souvenirs of historical significance. Thus, when the ancient crown of the Hanoverian kings was dismantled and the stones used for her new, light crown, she ordered that the diamonds left over should be set into eight rings, which she then presented, duly inscribed, to each of her train-bearers (Fig 5).
Early in her reign, she wore an archetypal historicist jewel, the ferronière, copied from the bandeau on the forehead of the sitter