Princess Marie`s jewelry box

Modern History
Gilded Ag 750‰ (according to the certificate of analysis BNRSR 28467/1977), colored enamel, white and colored precious and semi-precious stones.
Casting, gilding, chiseling, polishing, enameling, crimping, gemstone facceting, hammering, riveting.
Length = 35,5 cm; Width = 27.5 cm; Height = 30 cm; Weight = 7573,90 g

    Princess Marie`s jewelry box

    Text: Raluca Mălăncioiu; photo: Cornel C. Ilie

    This gilded silver box was intended for keeping jewels. The journey of this item from its manufacturing to its role as a container of the box in which Queen Marie’s heart was laid and, finally, to its status of an exhibit in a museum is a history page that is worth being known by the public, since it brings precious information both about the etiquette and manners that were customary two centuries ago and, more importantly, about the Romanian Royal House.  

    The cuboid box is mounted on a three-stepped base, with four statuettes placed in the corners – each representing a symbolic character, three men and one woman. The front side is framed by a young page with a cassette in his hand, sitting on the left edge, and a young woman holding a bag of money, on the right edge. The cassette and the money bag that the characters are holding anticipate the purpose of the box, that of a safe. On the upper side, there is a neo-classical frontispiece with the dedication and the inscription about the ones who offered this gift: “TO HER ROYAL HIGHNESS, PRINCESS MARIE OF ROMANIA, FROM THE ROMANIAN LADIES”, in capital letters, on two rows.  The simple phrase – the Romanian ladies – is full of significance. The identity of those who commissioned this precious gift, kept anonymous by this phrase, which does not specify their ranks or the fact they belonged to the Romanian noble families, is the expression of a unanimous gesture of the Romanian ladies, who accepted the arrival into their country of Princess Marie, the future Queen of Romania, as well as a sort of feminine organization, which, through their collection of funds, managed to order and pay this gift to the Parisian goldsmiths, Froment - Meurice, whose names are written on one of the sides of the box’s base. Behind the generic phrase “the Romanian ladies”, there were the wives of the most important member of the Conservative Party, as it was publicly revealed in the current issue of the periodical The Calendar for Everybody, published in Bucharest in 1894, at the Gutenberg publishing house. This publication also presented the gift offered by the wives of the members of the National Liberal Party, the other remarkable party in the Romanian political life in the 19th century and later, namely a silver table set, made up of a central piece and two fruit bowls with mythological scenes and putti.   

    In the center of the jewelry box’s front side, below the frontispiece, in a semicircular display, on a band, there are nine round, coin-like silver medallions, representing the counties’ coats of arms, alternating with eight polychrome enameled plates with a transparent gemstone (diamond?) in the middle. This display is repeated on the back side with other nine medallions, as well as on the lateral sides, with seven medallions each, containing the Romanian counties’ coats of arms. All in all, the box is decorated with the coats of arms of the 32 counties into which the Romanian territory was divided at the time and that the feminine representatives of the Romanian nobility wanted to point to, in order to complete the significance of the gift. The way in which the counties are ordered on the semicircular band is not based on geographical or regional criteria and it is likely that the goldsmith put one next to another randomly. The arrangement could have been related to the rank or financial contribution of each commissioner, reflected in the order of the counties, or, on the commissioners’ request, could have been simply meant to emphasize the Romanians’ homogeneity, irrespective of the region they come from.  For example, on the front side, from left to right, there are the coats of arms of the following counties: Dorohoi, Gorj, Buzău, Brăila, Tulcea, Muscel, Falciu (Falcii), Tutova and Dâmbovița. On the back side of the piece, there are, in this order, the coats of arms of Roman, Argeș, Bacău, Vâlcea, Putna, Constanța, Olt, Telorman and Romanați. On one of the lateral sides, there are the coats of arms of Neamț, Vaslui,Tecuci, Ilfov, Dolj, Vlașca and Prahova, and on the other one there are the coats of arms of Iași (Jassi), Mehedinți, Ialomița, Cuvurlui, Suceava, Botoșani and Râmnic (Romnic).

    On the front side, as well, in the central area, on a chiseled gold coat of arm, there is princess Marie’s monogram -  “M” -  made of translucent white gemstones, mounted in a silver frame. On the edges of the front side, there are the initials “F” on the left and “M” on the right, belonging, as we are inclined to believe, to prince Ferdinand and Princess Marie. Nevertheless, taking into account that Marie’s monogram is already represented in the center and the box is dedicated to the princess rather than the princely couple, the two initials could belong to the house of goldsmiths that made the piece: Froment – Meurice. Both the front and the back side are adorned with a décor inspired from the floral registry: blooming roses, twigs and leaves from the  Rosaceae family, displayed in ronde-bosse. The sides of the box are decorated with thistle flowers and leaves, the Scotts’ protecting symbol at wartime, directly linked to the origin of Princess Marie, whose father, Alfred Ernest Albert de Saxa - Coburg and Gotha, had the title of the Duke of Edinburgh.

    On the back of the box, in the corners, there are two other statuettes related to hunting – a young man holding a falcon and, in the right corner, a page blowing a hunting horn.  

    The lid is decorated with garlands adorned with alternating red and green stones in oval cabochons, surmounted by a construction reminding of the closed fleurons of a crown, decorated with lilies, with two back-to-back shields, one with the flag and the colors of the Romanian Kingdom and the other one of the English type. The crown placed above the shield was provided with a globe with a cross on top, but it was detached from the ensemble and got lost. The four corners of the lid are decorated with riveted cones, with a screwing system, just like the crown on top. Such screws are used for attaching many decorative elements of the box. The four statuettes, as well as the structure according to which the jewelry box is made, are similar with other works, out of which the nearest as date is a jewelry box signed, in 1867, by Émile Froment – Meurice (1837-1913), the son of the Parisian goldsmith François-Désiré Froment-Meurice, the one who founded the Jewelry House Froment – Meurice, and by the French architect Felix Duban. The similarities between these two works are striking: the four characters cast on the corners of the two boxes are identical, and the edifice itself is built according to the same principles. The differences between the two works reside in the ornaments and the historicized style of either piece – the one kept at the National Museum of Romanian History has Empire neo-classical elements, whereas the other is decorated with medieval neo-Gothic motifs. Since 2002, the jewelry box made in 1867 has been preserved at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in the United States of America, as a donation from the family Lynda and Steward Resnick, on the 40th anniversary of the museum.  

    The Parisian goldsmith François-Désiré Froment-Meurice (1802–1855), the son of the craftsman François Froment, who died when he was very young, took, at the age of 30, in 1832, the workshop of his step father, Pierre Meurice, opening a new business and rapidly winning the title and the reputation of “master jeweler and goldsmith of Paris”. This reputation gave him the opportunity to take the most important orders for some design elements of city monuments, commemorative and religious objects, as well as royal wedding gifts. The style that made him famous is characteristic for the masters of French Renaissance and the Italian mannerists, since he preferred the aesthetics of the medieval, romantic style. His son,  Émile Froment – Meurice, will continue the good reputation of his father, taking from him the style and some of the themes that made the Froment – Meurice house famous. 

    The jewelry box dedicated to princess Marie, kept at NHMR in Bucharest, as well as the one kept at LACMA in Los Angeles, both made by the master’s son, Émile Froment – Meurice, the former in 1892-1893, the latter in 1867, have many analogies with the François-Désiré Froment-Meurice works. The fully equipped dressing cabinet, made of gilded silver and offered in 1845 to Louise-Thérèse de Bourbon, the future duchess of Parma, as a wedding gift on her marriage to Charles III, has, on the sides of the mirror, two jewelry boxes that are almost identical to the one kept at the museum in Los Angeles. The work was finished before 1851, so that Froment Meurice could exhibit it at the Exhibition for Industrial Products in London, where he won an award for it. The piece was commissioned by subscription by the Partisan Ladies of the Bourbon Dynasty in France (the legitimist French ladies) for the wedding of King Charles X’s niece. The ornaments of these boxes included in the dressing cabinet, made of gilded silver, with painted enamels, colored glass and gemstones, evoke both the idealism of the loyalty to the king and God, specific for the French Middle Ages, and the marital fidelity of the princely couple. The dressing cabinet of the duchess of Parma is currently preserved in the collections of the Orsay Museum. In 1855, the famous goldsmith whose talent was often compared to that of the renowned Italian goldsmith Cellini, died at the climax of his career, a few months before the opening of the Universal Exhibition in Paris, which took place between the months of May and November of the same year. 

    Princess Marie’s jewelry box, kept at MNIR, crafted by the son of the famous artist, Émile Froment – Meurice, the one who stepped into his father’s footsteps and became the greatest goldsmith of the Second Empire, together with his father’s old collaborator, architect Felix Duban, was offered as a wedding gift to Princess Marie by “the Romanian ladies”, as it was previously mentioned. This act can be assigned to the tradition inaugurated by the French legitimists half a century before and can be interpreted as an early political act of the feminine supporters of monarchy and a sign that the feminine representatives of great nobility from the class of the Romanian boyars and land owners (the wives of the Conservative Party’s members) were rallying to the social and political realities of the European monarchies, among which France was considered the cradle of the ideological changes that had led to modernity and, therefore, was taken as a model.   

    The jewelry box was offered as a wedding gift, most probably when the princely couple arrived in Bucharest and the celebrations in the honor of their wedding lasted for five days, starting on 23 January (the princely couple’s wedding was celebrated on 10 January 1893 at Sigmaringen, in Germany, and included three ceremonies: a civil union and two religious weddings, a Catholic one and a Protestant one). The history of this object does not end with this moment, as the box accompanied Queen Marie’s heart during its long journey, between 1938, when the Queen died, and 2015, when her heart went back to the Golden Room in the Pelișor Castle.

    The Queen passed away on 18 July 1938. Her testament, written at Tenha-Juvah, Balchik, on 29 June 1933, accompanied by two letters addressed to her family and a letter entitled “To my country and my people”, was opened by her son, Carol II, during the same evening, in the presence of the Minster of Justice, Victor Iamandi, in case there were any instructions for the funeral. The testament itself was made public only the day after the funeral. In the letter addressed to the Romanians, the Queen expressed her love for the Romanian people and confirmed the fact that she had done her best to become a good “Romanian”. Furthermore, together with other indications about the funeral, she expressed the wish that her heart should be placed in the “Stella Maris” church in Balchik: “My body will rest in Curtea de Argeş, next to my beloved husband, King Ferdinand, but I want my heart to be laid under the slabs of the church that I have founded”. In his notes, Carol II mentions the moment when the Queen’s heart was taken: “... Taking the box with the heart from the coffin, Zweideneck gave it to me to wrap it in the Romanian and the English flag, according to my mother’s wish. I laid the box, wrapped in the two flags, into a bigger one. Then, it was taken by the Adjutant to the church in Cotroceni, where it will remain until we decide its transport to Balchik”. 

    This double-sided flag in which they wrapped the jewelry box received as a wedding gift, now containing the silver box with the Queen’s heart, was wrongly considered for a long time to be the great flag of the Mircea Brig. This school-ship was not at all involved in transporting Queen Marie’s heart to Balchik in 1938. The heart was transported from Constanţa to the residence in Balchik, nowadays in Bulgaria, by the Queen Marie destroyer, commanded by captain-commander Horia Măcellariu. Later, in 1940, when Romania lost Southern Dobruja (Cadrilater), the Queen’s heart was brought back to the country, also by the Queen Marie destroyer, in order to be kept in the royal residence’s chapel in Bran. Here, it was laid in a niche outside the castle, near the chapel – a faithful copy of Stella Maris – up to the completion of the building, but the historic destiny had another end in store; the niche was opened in 1974, during the communist regime and the box was entrusted to the Museum of the Bran Citadel up to new directives. In 1975, through decision no. 614/ 11 November 1974 passed by the Executive Committee of the Popular Council of Brașov County, the Queen’s heart was entrusted to the National History Museum of Romania, together with the two boxes. In 2015, through a government decree, it went back to the Royal House, in the Peleș Castle, being laid in Queen Marie’s Golden Room at the Pelișor Castle.

    The jewelry box received as a gift by princess Marie, who, in 1893, when she came to Romania, was a 17-year old teenager, a child fool of the enthusiasm of youth, who was going to become the only acknowledged “queen and mother of all the Romanians”, will remain, even beyond death, a testimony of the tumultuous history of a heart that beat for the Romanians. The “Romanian ladies”’ gift is currently exhibited to the public in the permanent exhibition of the National History Museum of Romania, entitled the Historical Treasure. 


    Radu Coroamă, Dorina Tomescu, Testamentele Reginei Maria,  Muzeul Național XVI, 200, p. 417-425; Narcis Dorin Ion (coord.), Maria a României. Portetul unei mari regine, Sinaia 2018; Laurance de Finance, Pascal Liévaux, Ornament. Vocabulaire typologique et technique, Paris 2014; (accesat 06.11.2019); (accesat 06.11.2019); 06.11.2019)