Untitled (Plaque d’Orléans), 2019

Untitled (Plaque d’Orléans), 2019, 17.7 x 23.4 cm, enamel and hammered, engraved, and silver-plated bronze, now ed. 12, but only 1/12  has this sweet patina and provenance. image: sothebys.com

In 2015 Sotheby’s auctioned a medium-sized trove of stuff from the former royal family of France, the House of Orléans. Included was this silver-plated and enameled bronze plaque, which featured the crowned coat of arms of the Princes d’Orléans, a bunch of repoussée auricular swags, and fourteen engraved signatures.

The plaque is believed to have been created for the cover of a photo album to commemorate the 1931 marriage in Palermo of Henri, comte de Paris (22yo) to his cousin, princesse Isabelle d’Orléans-Bragance (19):

Les signatures sont très probablement celles de Henri (comte de Paris) et Isabelle (princesse d’Orléans-Bragance, comtesse de Paris), Valdemar (prince de Danemark), Aage, Axel et Eric (princes de Danemark, comtes de Rosenborg), Amélie (princesse d’Orléans, reine du Portugal), Jean (futur grand-duc de Luxembourg), Margrethe (fille de Charles, duc de Vestrogothie et épouse du prince Axel de Danemark), auxquelles il faut ajouter quatre signatures non attribuées, Marguerite, Patrice et deux fois Marie.

It seems pretty wild to me. There was no foolin’ around with the coat of arms, obviously, but everything else seems to have been improvised in the extreme. The signatures–all first names–are distinct in their style, and wild in their placement. Those swags look like doodles come to life. It’s like the young wedding party drew up a souvenir themselves on the spot, and handed it off to the silversmith, a melange of extravagance, intimacy, and whimsy.

I knew a woman who was a bridesmaid for Grace Kelly, and received a customized photo album of the event. I later saw a similar album from another wedding party member turn up at Glenn Horowitz in East Hampton. Which makes me wonder if there are indeed multiple albums from Henri & Isabelle’s wedding, sitting in the bibliotheques of the descendants of various cousins royal. And if so, do they have these plaques, or something related? Was this a proof, a spare, a prototype?

Part of me wants this to be a unique object, and thus, a unique work, declared from afar, and sitting in the collection of some unsuspecting aristophile or decorator. But I’m also happy to declare it a multiple. Assuming this one’s from the happy couple, eleven in the edition remain to be fabricated. RSVP.

2020 update: OK, I thought of this plaque last night, and wanted to see it, and the more I dig into the names, I think some of the information in the Sotheby’s lot is incorrect. And that affects the date, and thus the very nature of this plaque.

First, the signatures: the seven signatures at the top are one entire family: Princesse Marie d’Orléans (1865-1909) was married to Prince Valdemar of Denmark (1858-1939) in 1885, and they had five kids by 1895: Aage, Axel, Erik, Viggo, and Margrethe.  The English Wikipedia page spells her name Margrethe, and notes she was named after her mother’s sister Marguerite; the French Wikipedia page spells her name Marguerite. It is true that Axel did marry a Marguerite, who was Swedish so maybe she, too was Margrethe, but the grouping of the siblings seems relevant.

And anyway, it says there is an unattributed Marguerite and a Patrice, and two Maries. Well, Marguerite d’Orléans (1869-1940), the sister of Marie, was married to Marie-Armond-Patrice MacMahon, duc de Magenta (1855-1927), who, like his father the president of the Republique, went by Patrice.  The oldest of their three kids were Marie and Amelie. [The third, Meurice, was born in 1903.] This signature of Amelie does not look like the Amelie d’Orléans (1865-1951), who became queen of Portugal.

Jean d’Orléans (1874-1940), the duc de Guise and the brother of Marie and Marguerite, married his first cousin, Isabelle (1878-1961), daughter of the Comte de Paris, [and sister of the above Amelie] and became pretender to the throne. These two are Henri’s (1908-1999) parents. It’s wild because they’re marrying cousins and what not, and Henri had a mother, a sister, and a wife named Isabelle.

But these signatures map to three siblings (Marie, Marguerite, and Jean), their spouses, and all, 2/3, and 1 or 2, respectively, of their children, and they’re grouped together, except for that Henri.

The problem with this identification, of course, is that Uncle Patrice died in 1927, four years before Henri married Isabelle (Princess Orléans-Braganza). And if that is Jean (1921-2019), the future grand duke of Luxembourg, he would have been just a kid. [Unless Henri stuck an ancient post-it note to the back identifying him, I can’t see how Jean de Luxembourg connects at all.]

And finally, those arms with the crown on top, which are described by Sotheby’s as the arms of the princes of Orléans, seem to me to be more specifically the arms of the duc d’Orléans, a title reserved for the second son, which Henri was not; he used comte de Paris. His father Jean, of course was duc de Guise, and Jean, Marie & Marguerite’s father Robert was duc de Chartres. They’re all princes, of course, but do these little differences matter in the world of heraldry and claimants to the throne? Considering that in addition to the two other lines claiming the non-existent throne of France, the House of Orléans itself had two competing claims, based on twin birth order disputes, which were only resolved by the current comte de Paris, who happens to be descended from both of them.

Anyway, if this is 1927 or earlier, and has something to do with the duc d’Orléans, then maybe it is related to Philippe, the cousin/brother-in-law/uncle whose death in 1926 set Jean–and Henri–on their path to pretendership.

But Princesse Marie d’Orléans, who married Prince Valdemar, and made up that tight nuclear family on the top of the plaque, died in 1909, which would push it even farther back. Their youngest child, Margrethe/Marguerite, was 14 when her mother died. FWIW, Philippe, the duc d’Orléans at the time, was on an arctic expedition from 1905-1909. I don’t know what to make of that.

I still want to make eleven more plaques, though, absolument.

Previously, and intriguingly related:
Untitled (We Privatized All of Versailles), 2017
Paul Revere (Attr.), Time Capsule Plaque, Silver, Engraved Text, c. 1795