The tea service is decorated with bees, which were Napoleon's heraldic emblem.
A fine wedding gift
This great silver-gilt tea service was created for the Emperor Napoleon and his second wife, the Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, shortly after their wedding in 1810.
Many of the main pieces – such as the double salts, sugar bowl and punch bowl – were designed by Napoleon’s architect Charles Percier. The tea service was assembled and supplied by the Emperor's goldsmith, Martin-Guillaume Biennais.
What does the tea service represent?
The eagle of Zeus on the sugar bowl and the Emperor’s portrait on the knife handles glorify Napoleon. The figure of Venus, goddess of love, on the salts and the mythological lovers Cupid and Psyche on the sugar bowl celebrate Napoleon and Marie-Louise’s marriage.
The tea service presents so many Napoleonic references that it could not be used by the restored Bourbon Kings of France. It was sold in 1830 by King Charles X to agents acting for Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton.
Who was the Duke of Hamilton?
Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton (1767-1852) was extremely proud of his titles and status as premier peer of Scotland. He lived up to his reputation by building a huge Classical-style north block onto Hamilton Palace and acquiring outstanding French furniture and other items which transformed the palace into an amazing treasure house.
Reconstructing the Hamilton Palace fireplace
The Duke of Hamilton and Napoleon
The Duke of Hamilton was a great admirer of the Emperor Napoleon, and he demonstrated this and his opposition to the British government of the time, by commissioning a very expensive portrait of the Emperor and displaying it in London in the early 1800s.
After Napoleon’s defeat, the Duke became an ardent admirer of the Emperor’s sister, Princess Pauline Borghese, and the trusted friend of the Emperor’s mother and uncle, Cardinal Fesch.
In 1825 Princess Pauline bequeathed her wonderful travelling service to the Duke as a token of her thanks for all his help. Her bequest inspired the Duke to commission Napoleon’s former architect Charles Percier to produce designs for the new interiors of Hamilton Palace. This led, in turn, in 1830 to the purchase of the stupendous silver-gilt tea service.
Where is the tea service now?
Napoleon’s tea service is now divided between the Louvre in Paris, which acquired chest one and its contents in 1919, and National Museums Scotland, which bought the second chest in 1976, with the aid of the Art Fund.