Today marks the Anniversary of the Birth of Queen María Cristina of Spain, who was born on this day in 1858! The Austrian Archduchess, from the Habsburg-Teschen branch, who become the wife of King Alfonso XII before serving as Spain’s Regent for 17 years after his premature death, ‘Doña Virtudes’ was known for her strong religious beliefs, austerity and staidness. Despite that, she had a great interest in jewellery, possessing a splendid collection that was later spread among her descendants, so to mark this Anniversary, we are featuring her massive Devant-de-Corsage Brooch!
In November 1879, 22 year-old King Alfonso XII married for the second time with Archduchess Maria Cristina of Habsburg-Lorraine. As such a special occasion like this requests, the young Princess received some splendid wedding gifts. Her husband gave her several diamond-set jewels designed by Spanish jeweller Francisco Marzo, valued in more than 3 million reales. It included a heraldic Crown, a Rivière, a Brooch, a pair of Bracelets, a Tiara, a Necklace and a large Corsage Brooch.
Without a doubt, the Devant-de-Corsage is the most impressive piece of this lot. It is designed as a very large openwork palmette with foliate and scrolling motifs, suspending an oval-shaped pendant, set with old-cut diamonds, mounted in silver and gold. Originally, 14 tassel elements hung from the main part of the piece. The design is reminiscent of a fleur-de-lys, the heraldic symbol of the House of Borbón, and a very recurrent motif used in the creation of their family jewels.
The Queen really favoured this piece, being often portrayed wearing it, not only during her tenure as Queen Consort, but also as Regent and Queen Mother. It was also worn on various important family occasions, namely weddings and christenings. Unlike some of her other wedding gifts, Maria Cristina decided to keep her Devant-de-Corsage unaltered until her death, in 1929.
When the Queen died, this piece (valued in 18.000 pesetas) was inherited by Infante Luis Alfonso of Bavaria, one of her grandsons, son of the deceased Infanta Maria Teresa. Luis Alfonso, a military in the Spanish Army, never married nor had any children. Thus, it is highly probable that her grandmother’s Corsage Brooch (plus many other pieces of jewellery) was inherited by her nieces and nephews.
Sometime in the 1980s, the Corsage was sold by the family to Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, a very rich industrialist and art collector (and the father of Baroness Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, the former wife of Archduke Karl von Habsburg), who gave it to his fifth wife, Carmen Cervera. ‘Tita’, the owner of one of the most interesting jewellery collections in Europe, wore the Diamond Corsage Brooch on various occasions.
However, the now-widowed Baroness Thyssen, decided to auction off the Diamond Corsage at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels Sale in May 2015. Such an important piece with a remarkable royal connection garnered a lot of attention and the auction house was expecting to sell it for more than 1.5 million dollars. In the end, it did not sell, and Queen María Cristina’s Diamond Corsage is probably still owned by Carmen Cervera, Baroness Thyssen.
This article was written by assistant editor, David Rato, who runs the Spanish Royal Jewels account on Instagram!
Las joyas adquiridas por la reina madre María Cristina de Habsburgo-Lorena by Amelia Aranda Huete