This ensemble was commissioned by a subscription circulated among the Legitimist ladies of France for the marriage, in November 1845, of Louise-Marie-Thérèse de Bourbon, the granddaughter of Charles X, and the Prince de Lucques, the future Duke Charles III of Parma. Its decoration evokes a nostalgic and idealised image of the Middle Ages as a period of loyalty to King and to God, as well as exalting traditional French values and the bonds of marriage. The fleurs-de-lis and roses of France are intertwined with ivy, the symbol of marital fidelity.
Sent to London in 1851 for the Great Exhibition, before being given to the Duchess, this prestigious piece of furniture contains references to many different civilisations – Occidental and Oriental – and achieves a synthesis of styles from various eras, from Saint Louis to Louis XIV.
The jewellery boxes, whose shape recalls 12th century Mosan reliquaries, are decorated with the portraits of twenty great French women renowned for their piety, courage and literary talent, such as Blanche de Castille, Joan of Arc and Clémence Isaure. The ewer and basin combine Islamic and Renaissance influences, while the candelabra are based on 17th century bronze models. The indeterminate style of the ensemble in fact demonstrates an eclecticism that would later prevail in the decorative arts under the Second Empire.