The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly named Place de l’Étoile, the étoile or “star” of the juncture formed by its twelve radiating avenues. The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The Arc is located on the right bank of the Seine at the centre of a dodecagonal configuration of twelve radiating avenues. It was commissioned in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by Emperor Napoleon at the peak of his fortunes. Laying the foundations alone took two years and, in 1810, when Napoleon entered Paris from the west with his bride Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, he had a wooden mock-up of the completed arch constructed. The architect, Jean Chalgrin, died in 1811 and the work was taken over by Jean-Nicolas Huyot. During the Bourbon Restoration, construction was halted and it would not be completed until the reign of King Louis-Philippe, between 1833 and 1836, by the architects Goust, then Huyot, under the direction of Héricart de Thury.
While we were in Paris this summer, the Musée de l'Armée had an exhibit, Napoleon and Europe. Part of the exhibit was the fabulous “Chaumet Crown” and the Ruby Parure for Archduchess Marie-Louis of Austria, Napoleon's second wife. Chaumet traces its origins to 1780. Founded by Marie-Etienne Nitot who along with his son Francois-Regnault Nitot became the official jewelers to Napoleon I during the Consulate and the Empire. Napoleon was a real wife-pleaser, lavishing an avalanche of gemstones upon his lady-loves. In the autumn of 1810 an order was placed with the emperor’s favorite jeweler, François-Regnault Nitot, in honor of his new wife, Archduchess Marie-Louise of Habsburg, the daughter of Emperor Franz I of Austria and niece of Marie-Antoinette. During the autumn of 1810, Nitot, began crafting two new parures, one of emeralds and diamonds, the other of rubies and diamonds. The finished pieces were delivered to the emperor on January 16, 1811. The Ruby Parure set used nearly 400 rubies and more than 6,000 diamonds in all. Both Napoléon I and Napoleon III seemed to love jewels and lavished them on their companions. I thought a post would be a good opportunity to review the history of the French Crown Jewels during and after Napoléon I.