After more than 200 years in the family, the gold-encrusted sword Napoleon wore into battle in Italy will be auctioned off on Sunday, across the street from one of his imperial castles.
The last of Napoleon's swords in private hands, it has an estimated value of euro 1.2 million to euro 1.5 million (US$1.6 million to US$2 million). The Osenat auction house, managing the sale, said it may sell for two to three times that amount.
The intricately decorated blade is 97 centimeters (32 inches) in length and curves gently - an inspiration Napoleon drew from his Egyptian campaign, auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat said. "He noticed that the Arab swords, which were curved, were very effective in cutting off French heads" and ordered an imitation made upon his return, Osenat explained.
The sword was carried by Napoleon - who was not yet Emperor at the time - into the battle of Marengo in June 1800, where he launched a surprise attack to push the Austrian army from Italy and seal France's victory, said Jean-Christophe Chataignier, an imperial expert at Osenat.
After the battle, Napoleon gave the sword to his brother as a wedding present, and it was then passed down through the generations, never leaving the family, according to the auction house.
Today the sword is owned by eight direct descendants of Napoleon, including Prince Victor Napoleon, Chataignier said. The auction house will hold the auction in view of Fontainebleau castle south of Paris, constructed by Napoleon as a quiet retreat. Strong enough for battle, the sword is uncommonly ornate, with geometric designs in gold covering the hilt and most of the blade. "It's at the same time a weapon of war and a very beautiful work of art," Osenat said.
The sword was declared a national treasure in 1978, and while it may be sold to a foreign buyer, they must have an address in France and keep the sword in France five to six months per year, Chataignier said.
"It symbolizes more than anything else the power, the force and the incontestable strength of the Emperor Napoleon," Osenat said as he displayed the sword. He wore white gloves to protect its steel and gold surfaces.
Among other objects on the block Sunday are portraits of Napoleon, busts of Napoleon III who was Emperor in the 1850s, as well as snuff boxes, sofas, pistols, and a lock of Queen Josephine's hair.