Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Maximilian Diamond

Warmest thanks to my Austrian correspondent in Los Angeles, who sends this news about a most interesting auction. See the Christies announcement in full here, and see my comments at the end of this post in italics.

"The Emperor Maximilian" was auctioned of at Christie's New York on April 22nd, 2010 as a lot in Jewels: The New York Sale, with The Catherine the Great Emerald Brooch and The Emperor Maximilian Diamond. The Estimate $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. Price Realized $ 1,762,500. That Friday at Christie’s was the first time the Emperor diamond had been on display to the public since 1982.

SHAPE & CUTTING STYLE: Cushion Brilliant
Measurements: 23.22 × 20.29 × 12.35 mm
Weight: 39.55 Carats
Depth: 60.9%
Table: 59%
Girdle: Medium to slightly thick, Faceted
Culet: Large
Polish - Very Good
Symmetry - Good
Fluorescence - Very Strong Blue

History of the Diamond:

Maximilian of Habsburg held a burning desire to visit the New World. In 1860, he journeyed to the tropical forests of Brazil on a botanical expedition. While in Brazil he acquired two exceptionally large diamonds which were to be named for him, the Emperor Maximilian and the Maximilian II.

The first was a 41.94-carat diamond with a strong blue fluorescence which gives the diamond a soft luminosity in daylight. The second diamond was of a greenish-yellow tint and weighted 33 carats. After his return to Europe, Maximilian presented the smaller diamond to his wife, who wore it mounted as a pendant. The Maximilian II is therefore sometimes called the "Carlota" Diamond. (Not to be confused with the pear-shaped pink stone of the same name.)

When Carlotta left Mexico during the summer of 1866, she left behind the 33-carat greenish-yellow diamond, which her husband had given her.

Legend holds that Maximilian was wearing the Emperor Maximilian Diamond in a small satchel tied around his neck when he faced the firing squad.* Following the execution, his remains were sent to Vienna and the Emperor Maximilian Diamond returned to Charlotte. Upon news of his death, Charlotte’s condition worsened and she shut herself off from the outside world. The diamond was subsequently sold to help pay for expenses during Charlotte’s illness and it disappeared for over three decades until, in 1901, two Mexicans attempted to smuggle it into the United States. It was seized by Customs and auctioned by the U.S. Government later the same year for $120,000, a quite large sum for a yellow diamond, even a larger one, in those days. In 1919, the Emperor Maximilian Diamond was purchased by a Chicago gem dealer, Ferdinand Holtz and was displayed in the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair as the highlight of the 'Century of Progress' exhibition, which reproduced a South African Diamond mine in operation with native laborers. Despite several offers to buy it, Mr. Holtz refused to sell the diamond and it remained in his possession until his death in 1946. It was subsequently sold to a private collector in New York. The name of the new owner has never been revealed and the diamond remained in her possession, mounted in a ring by Cartier, until Christie’s auctioned it in New York in 1982.

It was expected that diamond would fetch $330,000 but it eventually sold for $726,000 to Laurence Graff, the London jeweler, who has a vast collection of notable and historic diamonds. In January 1983, Graff sold The Emperor Maximilian, together with two other important diamonds, in a single transaction to the same buyer, Madame Imelda Marcos, wife of the President of the Philippines. Subsequently, it was sold and re-cut in the 1990’s, to its current weight of 39.55 carats, and finally it was acquired by the present owner.

According to the staff at Christie’s, the stone is believed to be a Golconda diamond but that cannot be proven conclusively. Golconda’s are absolutely exquisite stones. While many of the stones that end up on the auction block at places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s are top-notch Ds or Es, the Emperor diamond is actually only an I-color stone.

The stone’s strong blue fluorescence actually makes it look a few color grades better and, besides, there is for sure no denying this is one stone with a rich history.

View the Christies Video about The Emperor Maximilian Diamond.

*C.M. notes: This is quite a story! I should note, however, that I have developed a healthy skepticism for so-called "legends." I sincerely doubt Maximilian wore such a thing around his neck at the time of his execution. Never in all my years of research have I come across anything in a primary source about such a diamond being returned by the Mexicans to Carlota, and I find it extremely unlikely. There is in the Maximilian von Mexiko Archive in Vienna a copy of the detailed inventory taken when Maximilian was captured in Querétaro which includes everything, and it wasn't much, down to the last teaspoon. The Christies video talks about his liberal sentiments, but well... to give an idea of things, after an extensive trial in 1867, Maximilian was found guilty of several crimes against the Mexican nation, the most grevious--- and the one upon which his sentence of death was based--- for having signed into law the "Black Decree" of October 1865, in which anyone found in Mexican territory with a weapon could be treated, not as an enemy combatant, but as a common criminal and shot without trial. In 1865 and 1866, hundreds of people were executed by Mexican Imperial troops and by French troops under this "law." And this "Black Decree" was certainly not something trotted out at the last minute in a kangaroo court. John Bigelow, the U.S. minister in Paris, protested vociferously to the French authorities about the barbaric "Black Decree" just as soon as he heard about it. Even Carlota's own uncle, Joinville, wrote to her objecting to such drastic and cruel measures. (And Maximilian's tussles with the Iturbide family, the subject of my novel, which is based on extensive original research, shows no small degree of moral confusion on his part. Suffice it to say he had Alice Green de Iturbide, the distraught mother of the prince he "adopted," arrested and forcibly exiled. The entire, sad, file on that subject is perserved in own archive in Vienna.) After Maximilian was executed by the firing squad, his body did not fit into the temporary coffin, so, not feeling beholden to delicacy, the Mexicans broke the legs to make it fit. The embalming of the body was another grotesque fiasco--- also well documented by multiple observers (read the memoir of an eyewitness here). So again, I find this story of the Mexicans, clearly not in a mood for charity, returning any such diamond to Carlota very difficult to believe.

But who knows? History is often stranger than fiction.

As for Carlota, she had suffered her psychotic breakdown in while on a mission to Paris and Rome in September 1866, more than six months before Maximilian's death (read an eyewitness account in José Luis Blasio's Maximiliano íntimo, and see the letters of Maximilian's consul in Rome at the CONDUMEX archive in Mexico City) and was taken back to Miramar Castle in Trieste and kept under guard until her family took her back to Belgium. For the rest of her long life, insane, (possibly bipolar and later, so it seems, suffering from senile dementia) she lived in a castle in Belgium with a highly vigilant entourage, including ladies-in-waiting and a doctor. Her personal wealth was sustantial, but most historians concur that her fortune must have disappeared into the hands of her brother, Leopold II, King of the Belgians.

Comments? More information?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

José Luis Blasio, author of Maximiliano íntimo (Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico)-- a few notes and reflections

Having just finished reading María del Carmen Cuevas Pérez's splendid 1998 thesis for the Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México's Department of History, "Don José Luis Blasio y Prieto: Historia de vida a través de documentos personales", a few notes and reflections:

José Luis Blasio (1842 - 1923) was the author of Maximiliano íntimo, a memoir of his years as the Emperor Maximilian's private secretary (and also, an intermediate period, serving the Empress Carlota in Europe in 1866, which coincided with her spectacular psychotic breakdown).

Published in Mexico City and Paris in 1905 and in English nearly three decades later as Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico (Yale University Press, 1934), Blasio's lushly vivid memoir is, without a doubt-- and never mind its less-than-correct political stance-- one of the literary treasures of Mexico.

As Bernal Díaz's True History is to the Conquest, so Blasio's Maximiliano íntimo is to Mexico's Second Empire. Yes, it's that good.

In Mexico's Second Empire (1864 - 1867), as in all periods of history, many people witnessed events of importance, or found themselves close to key personalities, but never, even if they lived into the ripest of lucid old age, bothered to share them in a memoir. ("Who has time?" they probably said. "Why should I care what people I don't know think?" "When I'm dead, I'm dead." & etc.) As for those who managed to put pen to paper, most cobbled together something useful for the interpid researcher but, alas, boring, and / or shot though with displays of personal vanity. Blasio opens his heart, but with the most gentlemanly consideration for the reader, and it is this informative spirit, this deep generosity, elegant in its simplicity, that lifts Maximiliano intimo into a realm beyond that of the other memoirs of the period.

To be fair, I should note two other superb memoirs: Sara Yorke Stevenson's Maximilian in Mexico and Charles Blanchot's L'Intervention Française au Mexique.

Just to give a taste of Blasio's memoir, here is his description of the Moorish room in the small castle on the grounds of Maximilian's Miramar Castle in Trieste, which Blasio visited in 1866 (my translation):

"[It] was upholstered in dark damask and its walls almost literally covered with exotic weapons that the emperor had collected and catalogued with his exquisite taste. The walls also had verses of the Koran handwritten in gold. In the center of the room a beautiful fountain played almost to the ceiling, a thin crystalline thread of water that refreshed that residence worthy of an oriental magnate. From the ceiling hung a canopy made of ostrich eggs enclosed within nets of green silk; the seats were plump pillows of red velvet, and the floor was covered with Turkish carpets of many colors. Everywhere magnificent censers let out plumes of perfumed smoke, and there within the visitor's easy reach, were to be seen long Arab pipes, the kind used by those refined smokers of the Orient."

Blasio's memoir informed many scenes in my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, among them, the chapters set in Mexico City in November 1865, Cuernavaca in January 1866, and Rome in September 1866. Blasio himself appears as a minor character in these chapters. As for Blasio's treatment of the subject of my novel, Agustin de Iturbide y Green, the toddler Maximilian made an Imperial Higness and brought into his Court: alas, Blasio makes some serious mistakes, mainly, that the child was 5 (he was only 2 1/2 years old), and that his father was dead. In fact, the child's parents, Angel and Alicia de Iturbide, were both quite alive and, after the mother changed her mind about the arrangement, wild with grief at having been separated from her child, Maximilian's response was to arrest her and have her and her husband expelled from Mexico. From Washington DC and Paris, they got up quite an intrigue against Maximilian, which is amply documented in various archives, including the Iturbide family archive in the Library of Congress (click here for a podcast about that research), the Agustin de Iturbide y Green archive at Catholic University, and in Maximilian's own archive in Vienna, which contains a file of letters from the Iturbides, including the child's father, Angel de Iturbide. My guess is that Blasio did not know much about it, as Maximilian's correspondence with the Iturbide family was direct-- without an intervening secretary-- or else through Castillo, who handled the Civil List. Blasio would have handled official correspondence, and I suppose, neither then nor later did he have the wish or the wherewithal to investigate this ugly episode.

But this is a mere quibble.

Until Cuevas Pérez's thesis, little was known about Blasio other than what he himself wrote about his few years in Maximilian and Carlota's service, which ended with Maximilian's execution by firing squad in Querétaro in June of 1867.

Cuevas Pérez's thesis is based on her research into Blasio's personal archive, which had been inherited by her father, who had been all of ten years old when Blasio died in 1923. They had lived under the same roof, for Blasio, a childless widower, found lodging with his distant cousin, Cuevas Perez's paternal grandmother. As Cuevas Pérez writes (my translation from the Spanish):

"When I was a little girl, my father, Ernesto Cuevas Alvarado, always told me about a man named José Luis Blasio, who had been the godfather at his baptism and, many years before that, had served as the private secretary for Maximilian von Habsburg, for almost the entire time he was emperor. At that young age, it seemed to me a story and after a few years, it didn't make sense because I couldn't see the people of that time in relation to my father. It was not until I was in highschool that I began to wonder, and then, when I began to major in history at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and moreso when I began my studies as an archivist at the Iberoamerican University, that I truly understood the importance of this archive, which my father had so carefully guarded. I decided to write my thesis based on these papers that no one, other than my father and Blasio himself, had read. And now I began to read.... "

María del Carmen Cuevas Pérez describes her own father's memories of Blasio, as told to herself (my translation):

"He was affable, with great political and social tact. Despite his well-known versatility, he never entered into any place, even if he found the door open, for he was very reserved, very polite and above all, noble and above rancor and vanity. He was an impeccably well dressed man. He would not go out to the street without his top hat, cane, jacket or frockcoat, or his most formal suit."

Epecially notable is Blasio's correspondence with his cousin, the Mexican diplomat and novelist Federico Gamboa (1864-1939). Writes Cuevas Pérez (my translation):

"Jose Luis Blasio and Federico Gamboa were very close; they were more than family; they were very close friends... From Washington [Gamboa sent Blasio] congratulations for having finished his work about Maximilian von Habsburg and told him how sorry he was to not have been able to offer his help with as a writer, and that he was very happy that, having advised him many times to write the book, he had finally conceded."

Ah, the labyrinths of literary fame. Here I couldn't help thinking of Guiseppe di Lampedusa's relationship with his cousin, close friend and and literary colleague, the poet Lucio Piccolo. In their lifetime, Piccolo was the senior on the literary scene. Guiseppe di Lampdusa, of course, was the author of one book, the beloved and now classic novel of the fall of Sicily's 19th century aristocracy, Il Gatorpardo (The Leopard).

In Cuevas Pérez's thesis, which you can read on-line here, there is more detail about Blasio's subsequent career as a bookkeeper for the Ferrocarril Mexicano (Mexican Railroad), the Blasio family, his spouse Adela, friends, and other details about his years in Mexico City after the fall of the Empire and up until his death in 1923. Cuevas Pérez's also includes a complete catalog of the archive, extensive notes, and a bibliography.

More anon.

Originally posted at Madam Mayo blog.

Marcel Wick's Musical, "Carlota: A Serpentine Crown"

Warmest congratulations to Marcel Wick, whose musical, "Carlota: A Serpentine Crown", is now on-line here. There is also a Dutch version here.

Susanne Igler's Carlota de México

Carlota de México, Dr Susanne Igler's excellent biography of Mexico's Empress Carlota was published in Spanish by Planeta in 2002 as part of the Grandes protagonistas de la historia Mexicana series edited by Mexican historian José Manuel Villalpando. It offers a complete overview of Carlota's life, from her childhood as the princess of Belgium; her marriage to the Austrian Archduke Maximilian; brief reign as Empress of Mexico; psychotic breakdown in the Vatican; and the long years of her widowhood as a mad yet coddled recluse in Belgium. Igler's biography opens thus (my translation):

A Fairytale Princess

Mexican history is rich in surprising, dramatic, and even grotesque personalities, yet few have so excited the imagination, both collective and artistic, as the woman who, for a fleeting moment, was the Empress of Mexico. Today, more than 130 years after the Mexican State's struggle to define itself, there is abundance of films, soap operas, artistic testimonies, novels, plays, historical debates and -- yes!--- even restaurants named apropos of Maximilian's empire; more than the fleeting and superficial nature of this historical episode would suggest...

The work is amply illustrated with reproductions of portraits (including a charming one of Carlota as an toddler by Winterhalther), and photographs, and includes a chronology and bibliography. This is an important addition to any collection on the Second Empire.

P.S. A bibliography for The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, my novel about the Second Empire, is here.

Originally posted at Madam Mayo blog.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Maximilian's Saddle Auctioned Off for $200,000 Dollars

From my Austrian correspondent in Los Angeles:

"A fabulous saddle made for the last Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I sold at auction on January 30, 2010. The stunning Imperial saddle, consigned by the heirs of the Julius Skilton family who acquired it shortly after Maximilian's execution by the forces of Benito Juarez in 1864, was lavishly adorned with multiple imperial crests and sold for a record setting $200,000 (estimate $100,000 - $150,000) propelled by animated bidding from the audience and all six telephone lines."

Watch the three minute video of the auction:
(The first two minutes are a bit boring, then-- just when I was tempted to turn it off-- it gets wild. At the end of the video you'll see a close up of the saddle.)

P.S. Read my previous blog post with more information about this saddle and its previous owner, Dr Julius Skilton.

Originally posted in Madam Mayo blog.

Plan Ahead for the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 2012

Don Miles, author of the highly-praised history, Cinco de Mayo, has put together an excellent website for the upcoming festivities including a reenactment in Austin, Texas in 2012, which mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. No, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day (that's in September), but a celebration of a temporary but astonishing victory of the Mexicans over the French Imperial Army at Puebla in 1862. Read a fascinating, detail-packed interview with Don Miles about Cinco de Mayo here.

Koningsdrama in Mexico by Arthur van den Elzen

Isn't this cover striking? Archduke of Austria Maximilian von Habsburg and his then fiancee, Charlotte, Princess of the Belgians, some years before they came to Mexico as Emperor and Empress, backed by the French Imperial Army. Alas, I cannot read Dutch, but I do know how to select, copy and paste, so herewith a description of this new book about Maximilian and Carlota by Arthur van den Elzen:

ISBN: 9789059119253

Verschijningsdatum: maart 2010
Prijs: €24.95
Van 1864 tot 1867 regeerde een jong Europees koningspaar over Mexico, te weten Maximilian von Habsburg, de jongere broer van de laatste grote keizer van Oostenrijk Franz Joseph, en zijn echtgenote Charlotte, de eerste prinses van het jonge België. Vol idealen waren ze vertrokken naar hun droomzetel in de “Nieuwe Wereld”. Hun zit op Moctezuma´s troon was vanaf de start echter gedoemd te mislukken en uiteindelijk ontliepen beiden het noodlot niet. Maximilian werd na een felle eindstrijd en een showproces in het noorden van Mexico geëxecuteerd. Charlotte zou haar “Max” bijna zestig jaar overleven. Waanzinnig - zich nog altijd keizerin van Mexico wanende - sleet ze het lange resterende deel van haar leven tussen de koude muren van de kastelen rondom Brussel. Dit boek vertelt hun levensverhaal, een waargebeurd drama.

Originally posted at Madam Mayo blog.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tras las huellas de un desconocido (In the Footsteps of an Unknown) by Dr Konrad Ratz

Tras las huellas de un desconocido [In the Footsteps of an Unknown](Mexico City: Siglo XXI / Conaculta / INAH, 2008), is a crucially important new work by Dr. Konrad Ratz, Austrian expert on Mexico's Second Empire. Covering a wide range of previously unknown or only superficially explored subjects relevant to Maximilian's life and brief rule in Mexico, Tras las huellas de un desconocido is a both fascinating and entertaining read. As Dr. Ratz writes in his introduction (my translation):

"This book does not attempt to rewrite the complete history of Mexico's Second Empire, but it does aim to fill several gaps in Mexican historiography by bringing forth accounts translated from the German, which because of the language barrier, have not been considered in Mexico. These are not only memoirs and diaries of the period, but also recent monographs, both published and unpublished, in German.

In 1974, the Austrian historian Adam Wandruska (1914-1997) professor at the University of Vienna and a leading expert on the history of the Habsburgs, formed a interdisciplinary group of researchers for an exhibit on "Maximilian of Mexico" at Hardegg Castle in Lower Austria. This had been the property of prince Karl von Khevenhueller, who had fought for Maximilian as commander of the Austrian hussars. Subsequently he became a friend of Porfirio Diaz. This lifelong friendship, apart from various extraofficial diplomatic contacts, greatly contributed to the resumption, in 1901, of diplomatic relations between Mexico and Austria, which had been severed in 1867...
... [In addition to these contributions by Professor Wandruska and his group of researchers, this work] covers the unpublished memoirs of the gardener and botanist Wilhelm Knechtl; the diary of Johann Stefan, first engineer on the Novara; published works on the Austrian Volunteer Corps by Edmund Daniek and on the Mexican Austrian Volunteer Corps by Felix Gamillscheg; the research by Norbert Stein on Father Fischer; a brief but essential and richly detailed work by Johann Lubienski on government institutions under Maximilian, and Felix Wilcek's thesis on Maximilian's income and expenditures in Austria.... [And] in a final chapter I have added a biographical sketch of Egon Cesar Corti, biographer of Maximilian and several other European sovereigns and dignitaries. Unfortunately, given the lack of biographical information and misunderstandings with the University of Vienna, which never offered him a professorship, the 50th anniversary of his death in 1953 went unnoticed in Mexico as well as his native country."

As Mexican historian Patricia Galeana writes in her prologue (my translation),

"...Konrad Ratz's work has great value for Mexican as well as Austrian and European historiographies on the Second Empire. He brings us new details and in such clear prose with short chapters that we may read it as a novel, though it is based on solid foundations thanks to meticulous historical research.... we discover the weaknesses and strengths of Maximilian, the romatic politician who dreamed of being the new Quetzatcoatl, Mexico's savior."

Tras las huellas de un desconocido has my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation. Indeed, no bibliography of Maximilian and the Second Empire would be complete without it.

This blog post originally appeared in a slightly different version in my blog, "Madam Mayo".

The Memoirs of Charles Blanchot, General Bazaine's Aide-de-camp

***UPDATE Sept 30, 2013**** The text is now available on-line here.

Another Maximilian bibliography note: Mémoires: L'Intervention Française au Mexique by Charles Blanchot. Published in 1911, this very rare memoir by Charles Blanchot, aide-de-camp to General Bazaine, Supreme Commander of French Forces in Mexico during Mexico's Second Empire, took me several years to find. Year after year, I "googled" it until finally it showed up on the page of an antique book dealer in Paris. The price was, in Euros, the equivalent of 700 dollars. I'll admit I waffled. But I am glad indeed that I bought it--- or rather, the 3 volume set with its pages uncut (I had to use a steak-knife to slit them open--- quite an operation).

There is so much in here that has never seen light in either Spanish or English, for instance: the powerful if behind-the-scenes role of Doña Juliana de Gómez Pedraza, widow of Manuel Gómez Pedraza, and the vicious if, as Blanchot suggests, unfounded rumors circulating in Mexico City about Bazaine in 1866-7. Blanchot, who married an American of French origin in Mexico City, also offers a detailed and lively portrait of Mexico City society at the time.

His memoirs informed several scenes in my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, in particular, the chapters "March 1, 1866: Basket of Crabs" which includes the mention of the very suspicious and sudden death of French financial expert Monsieur Langlais and "March 4, 1866: Rio Frio," about the murder of Baron d'Huart. Not in my novel but fascinating and sad reading is the chapter on his arrival with General Bazaine in Toulon, France.

This blog post was first published in a slightly different version on my blog, "Madam Mayo."

Welcome to Maximilian - Carlota, a Resource for Researchers of Mexico's Second Empire or "French Intervention" of the 1860s

Welcome! Think of this blog as a kind of bulletin board, pointing out information elsewhere on the web that may of use or interest to you. I'll be updating it every Tuesday, so come back next week-- or, easier yet, subscribe using the orange "feed" button on the sidebar.

I've been researching this strange and tumultuous period of Mexican history for more than a decade, all with the aim of writing my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books, 2009), which is based on the true and very strange story of the half-American, half-Mexican child who was taken into Maximilian's Court in 1865. (Read all about it in the Reader's Guide.) The Spanish translation of my novel, by Mexican poet and novelist Agustín Cadena, El Último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano, will be published in Mexico by Random House Mondadori in the fall of 2010. (Yes, I speak fluent Spanish, but I translate from Spanish into English, not vice versa.)

Why this blog, if my book has already been published? By happenstance and from correspondence with readers and other researchers, I continue to learn about books, articles, documents, websites, photos, songs, artworks, and more about the period, and I'd like to share some these treasures here. I also plan to highlight items from my long-standing Maximilian von Mexiko webpage, which is, like this blog, dedicated to resources for researchers on this richly fascinating period. In addition, I will be reposting selected book reviews and other notes from my writer's blog, Madam Mayo.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...