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Odiot Jean-Baptiste Claude

(Parigi, 1763-1850)

This elegant gold bracelet belonged to Pauline Bonaparte. The decoration is the typical “Retour d’Egypte” style, which originated in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century following the circulation of reproductions of Egyptian hieroglyphics and artefacts discovered during Napoleon’s campaigns. The engraved decoration, extending over two overlapping bands, faithfully reproduces the triangles symbolic of the pyramids, hieroglyphics of various deities and, in the central decoration, a sphinx wearing the nemés, the striped headdress of the pharaoh, and the winged sphere, symbol of the god Ra.

This is a very refined piece of jewellery, produced in one of the most famous Parisian Maisons of the era, the one that, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot, created some of the most elegant and precious objects of the period for the French imperial family and other equally prestigious patrons.

The stamps impressed on the safety clasp of the bracelet date its execution to 1809. We do not know whether it was commissioned by Pauline herself or whether she received it as a gift. The only thing that is certain is that it belongs to the last phase of her life, when she was no longer bound to Camillo Borghese and withdrew to her residence in Neully, near Paris.

Object details

gold - niello, engraving
cm 2x21

Borghese heirs. Purchased by the State, 2005.

  • 2015 Roma, Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo


This gold bracelet has an engraved decoration distributed over two overlapping bands, sandwiched between two thin notched edges. On the upper band are hieroglyphics of various deities, and on the lower band, triangles decorated with sprigs of three lilies alternated with multiple triangles, figures symbolic of the pyramids. In the centre is a decorative element composed of a sphinx wearing a nemés, the striped headdress of the pharaoh, and lion paws in a square frame, surmounted by a winged sphere, symbol of the god Ra, dotted with stars.

The piece of jewellery, which belonged to Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister who had married Camillo Borghese in 1803, was made in 1809 by Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot, a Parisian goldsmith and supplier to the imperial family. The date is indicated by the presence, on the safety clasp, of two stamps depicting an eagle’s head with its beak pointing to the left, and a stamp with a right hand pointing to the left: these were the stamps used in the Paris region from 1809 to guarantee the authenticity of those already affixed to works in gold and silver (Beuque 1962, vol. I, pp. 23, 77). The hallmark of Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot, with the four initials of his name inscribed in a lozenge, is also found on the safety clasp (Frégnac 1965, p. 321, no. 351 Ih). The Maison Odiot, founded in 1690 by Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard Odiot, was brought to its greatest heights by Jean-Baptiste-Claude, who produced some famous pieces such as the samovar of the Bank of France, decorated with sphinxes and Medusa heads, the cradle for the king of Rome, Napoleon II, born in 1811 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) and the complete toiletry set for Empress Marie Louise (1810), this last known only through drawings.

The piece of jewellery is made in the “Retour d’Egypte” style, which was very popular in Europe in the early 19th century, and was characterised by elegant ornamental quotations of elements inspired by contemporary archaeological finds in Egypt. Knowledge of these finds was spread throughout Europe by Dominique Vivant Denon’s work Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte, pendant les campagnes du général Bonaparte, published in several editions between 1802 and 1810, and it drove a passion for Egypt that pervaded every decorative sphere. It was a proper fashion: the ideograms and symbols of Egyptian culture lost their original symbolic meaning, becoming ornamental quotations of great evocative charm. In the bracelet, the hieroglyphs, although perfectly transcribed, do not communicate any coherent message, and the sphinx is transformed into a purely decorative graphic sign (Costamagna 2005, p. 26).

Whether it was a gallant homage or a personal purchase, the bracelet dates from the period after Pauline’s departure from Rome, when she settled in the residence of Neully, near Paris, where for a few years, she led the worldly life she so loved much.

Sonja Felici

  • E. Beuque, Dictionnaire des poinçons officiels français & étrangers, anciens & modernes de leur création (XIVe siècle) à nos jours: platine, or & argent, Paris 1962, vol. I, pp. 23, 77.
  • C. Frégnac, Les Grands Orfèvres de Louis XIII à Charles X, Paris 1965, p. 321, n. 351 Ih.
  • O. Gaube du Gers, Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot (1763 - 1850), in Sotheby’s art at auction, 1987-88, London 1988, pp. 332-337.
  • G. Gorgone, Paolina Bonaparte principessa romana, in Villa Borghese. I principi, le arti, la città dal Settecento all’Ottocento, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Villa Poniatowski, 2003-2004) a cura di A. Campitelli, Ginevra 2003, pp. 37-41
  • A. Costamagna, La raffinatezza e il lusso: lo "stile" Borghese dal cardinale Scipione ai principi Camillo e Paolina in quattro piccoli "tesori" artistici, Roma 2005, pp. 23-27.
  • M. Minozzi, scheda in Lo stato dell’arte, l’arte dello stato: le acquisizioni del Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo; colmare le lacune, ricucire la storia, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo, 2015), a cura di M.G. Bernardini, Roma 2015, p. 213, n. 67.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/99000391, S. Felici 2020.