These magnificent works by the French Imperial goldsmiths Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot and Martin-Guillaume Biennais (see lot 27) epitomise the sophisticated neo-classical taste of the court of Napoleon and those of the Royal Ducal Courts of Europe during the first quarter of the 19th century.
They belonged to the romantic figure Stephanie de Beauharnais (1789-1860), the daughter of a French aristocrat with connections to the French Imperial family. Josephine Beauharnais, the widow of Stephanie’s cousin Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais, who died tragically at the guillotine in 1794, married the highly regarded General Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796. Josephine took an interest in the schooling of her late husband’s cousin and arranged for her to attend the same school as her own daughters. Following Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor in 1804 Stephanie became even closer to the Imperial Family being welcomed into Royal household at the Tuileries Palace.
Napoleon’s dynastic plans for the Royal families of Europe included the young Stephanie. In March 1806 she was declared a Princesse Française and in April that year she was married to Prince Karl Ludwig Friedrich, grandson and heir of the newly created Grand Duke of Baden, whose sisters had married into the Royal families of Bavaria, Russia, Sweden and Hesse.
The young couple’s frst married homes were the palaces of Mannheim and Schwetzingen. On the Grand Duke’s death in 1811 Prince Karl succeeded his grandfather and the couple moved to the palace of Karlsruhe. The pieces by the goldsmith Biennais from the present dinner service date from this time. Stephanie gave birth to fve children, two sons and three daughters. Sadly only the three daughters survived childhood by the time of her husband’s untimely death in 1818. Consequently the crown passed to Grand Duke Karl’s uncle. As the Grand Duke’s widow Stephanie was provided for with a generous settlement and she returned to the palace of Mannheim where she established her court attracting writers and artists. The later dishes and covers by Odiot were commissioned by the Dowager Grand Duchess for the palace, some of which remains in use there, (see opposite). She had the palace remodelled in the neo-classical style.
A large part of the service was sold Sotheby’s, New York, 6 November 2008, lot 106.