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Uffizi and Napoleon

  • Uffizi and Napoleon

    Works, places and memories in the collections of the Galleries

    Uffizi and Napoleon
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    In July 1796, in the middle of the Italian Campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte, then a twenty-six year old general, crossed Florence in a lightning quick itinerary. At Palazzo Pitti he was received by the Grand Duke Ferdinando III of Lorraine; the audience was held in an intimate environment adjacent to the White Hall and the Bona Room, while lunch was served in the Room of the Niches, overlooking the square. In the city, he visited the Academy of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, where he admired the anatomical waxworks, and, passing through the Vasari Corridor, the Tribune of the Uffizi, where he was struck by the Venus de' Medici.

    After the Grand Duchy under the House of Lorraine was dissolved and Napoleon I became emperor, he never returned to Florence, where his power was represented and exercised by Louis I, King of Etruria. Upon the latter’s death, his widow, Maria Louisa of Bourbon took over and, from 1809, Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi became Grand Duchess of Tuscany. The northern wing of the second floor of the Pitti Palace was redesigned in the hope that Napoleon and his consort Marie Louise of Habsburg would come to stay, and the works were not concluded until well after the rapid trajectory of his fortune.

    Even without Bonaparte, in the palace and in the collections of the Galleries there is no lack of references to the heroic myth of his personality. Both inside and outside the palace, and in the Boboli Gardens, one can follow an elaborate itinerary through decorations, paintings, sculptures, objects, and details that defined an era marked by a style of renewed elegance, inspired by the ancient and at the same time open to modernity.

    On the bicentenary of Napoleon's death, which occurred in St. Helena on May 5, 1821, this hyper-vision is dedicated to these testimonies. It begins in the rooms of the Gallery of Modern Art in Palazzo Pitti, the heart of the early nineteenth-century heritage, and continues by focusing on unexpected and lesser-known elements of the same season.

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    Section 1 – Napoleon’s image

    Napoleon implemented a formidable program of propaganda through a far-sighted diffusion of his own image and by supporting the arts with great generosity, with the aim of exalting the figure of the sovereign and that of the new Empress Marie-Louise of Hapsburg, through an iconography inspired by Augustan Rome. The Empire style spread throughout the territories conquered by Bonaparte, including Tuscany, as evidenced by the painted or sculpted portraits of the sovereign and the works that celebrate his military exploits on the model of the great tableaux à la David, or that illustrate important dynastic events, such as the Birth of the King of Rome.


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    Section 1 – Napoleon’s image

    Antonio Canova (Possagno 1757 – Venice 1822) and his workshop

    Bust of Napoleon Bonaparte

    approx. 1810
    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Palatine. inv. no. 879

    The colossal bust, traditionally believed to be the work of Antonio Canova, was donated in 1845 to the Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopold II of Lorraine by Louis Bonaparte, as a sign of gratitude for the hospitality he had received in Florence during his exile, following the defeat of his brother Napoleon Bonaparte.

    The subject is bare-chested, with head turned to the right, high forehead, wavy hair, pronounced nose, thin lips and deep-set eyes, which contrast with the classic composure of the face, perfect in every detail and in line with Canova's principles of "ideal beauty".

    This proud, dominant image traces, with minimal variations, the portrait of Napoleon executed by Canova "from life" in Paris in 1802. The first consul of the French granted him no less than five sittings to create the terracotta maquette, used by the sculptor as a model for the entire monumental nude figure of Napoleon as Mars the peacemaker, today exhibited in the London residence of the Duke of Wellington, the general who defeated the reckless leader at the Battle of Waterloo.

    The type of this bust-portrait was popular in international collections, thanks to the numerous copies made in the Carrara sculpture workshops sponsored by Napoleon’s sister Elisa Baciocchi, which had been appointed to perform the serial production of celebratory images of members of the Bonaparte family. The last signed version of the bust dates back to 1822, acquired by the Duke of Devonshire for his collection of sculptures in Chatsworth.

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    Section 1 – Napoleon’s image

    Sèvres Manufactory and Alexandre Brachard (based on Antoine-Denis Chaudet’s bust)

    Bust of Napoleon Bonaparte

    Inscription: “A.B. 18.6.7.”, imprinted
    Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. Pitti Objects of Art no. 486

    The archetype of the bust represented as an ancient herma with the inscription "Napoléon" was the marble sculpted by Antoine-Denis Chaudet in 1799, which had been chosen by Bonaparte as his official portrait in sculpture. In 1804, the Sèvres Manufactory asked the artist to produce a plaster version of this portrait, which was then made into biscuit. This production was intended for the desks of the kingdom's offices but was also used as a diplomatic gift.

    The initials of the modeler's name Alexandre Brachard and the date of execution, June 18, 1807, are on the back of our piece. It is not certain when it arrived at the Pitti Palace, but we can guess that it would have been brought in 1814 by Ferdinand III of Habsburg-Lorraine on his return from exile in Würzburg, and that he had received it as a gift from Napoleon, since in 1811 he was godfather at the baptism of his son, the King of Rome.

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    Section 1 – Napoleon’s image

    Anonymous, 19th century

    Apotheosis of Napoleon Bonaparte

    Graphic study from a drawing by Andrea Appiani
    Uffizi Galleries, Collection of Prints and Drawings, Inv. 4770F

    In 1808 Andrea Appiani, official painter of the new regime established by Napoleon, painted a series of frescoes with the Napoleon’s Feats in the Royal Palace of Milan, which were almost completely destroyed in 1943 by the Allied bombings of the Second World War. The drawing conserved in the Uffizi, the work of a copyist, reproduces the octagonal medallion with the scene of the Apotheosis, the only partially surviving testimony of the cycle frescoed by Appiani, together with four lunettes with the Cardinal Virtues. The scene, originally located on the ceiling of the room, focuses on the glorification of Napoleon, triumphantly seated on a throne supported by four winged Victories, scepter in hand and laurel crown on his head, in the guise of an ancient emperor. The exaltation of his role as universal sovereign is completed by the eagle of Jupiter, symbol of the Empire, and by seventeen crowned female figures, alluding to the various cities, regions and kingdoms subjected to Napoleonic rule.

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    Section 1 – Napoleon’s image

    Sèvres Manufactory and Jean Georget (based on a work by François Gérard, with variants)

    Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte

    Porcelain painted in polychrome, gilded wood (frame)
    Inscription: “Manuf[actu]re Imp[éria]le de Sèvres Georget d’après Gérard 1810”
    Florence, Porcelain Museum, Inv. 1890 no. 8749

    The splendid portrait of Napoleon I was executed to scale on a porcelain tile. It is taken from the official full-length painting by François Gérard, where the subject is depicted in the suit worn during the coronation ceremony as Emperor of the French, which took place in Paris in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame on December 2, 1804. In the inscription on the back of our tile, in addition to the date of execution 1810, François Gérard is indicated as the author of the archetype and Jean Georget, a student of Jacques Louis David, as the executor of our piece, painted using a complex miniature technique that can be traced back to the invention of the Sèvres Manufactory under the direction of Alexandre Brongniart (1800-1847).

    Like other specimens produced by this manufactory and preserved in Palazzo Pitti, this tile was gifted, in 1811, to the Duke of Würzburg, Ferdinand III of Habsburg-Lorraine, to mark the baptism of the son of Napoleon and Ferdinand’s niece, Marie Louise of Habsburg-Lorraine.

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    Section 1 – Napoleon’s image

    Sèvres Manufactory and Étienne-Charles Le Guay (portrayed by François Gérard, with variants)

    Spindle-shaped vase with portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte

    Porcelain painted in polychrome and gilded; gold-plated bronze
    Inscription: “M. Imple / de Sèvres / 1809”, in red; “D.9”, in green; “16 J. BT”, in gold; “Le Guay d’après Gérard”
    Pitti Palace, Palatine Gallery, Inv. AcE, no. 1525

    The shape of the vase is reminiscent of ancient amphorae, with two gilded bronze handles in the shape of spirals ending in eagle heads. The eagle's head, a reference to the emperor, was also decorated on the back of our piece, while the front side bears the same portrait reproduced by the Sèvres Manufactory on a porcelain tile. It is derived from the official full-length painting by François Gérard, where Napoleon I is depicted in the suit worn for the coronation ceremony as Emperor of the French, which had taken place the previous year in Paris in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.

    The decision to cover the vase with a "blu lapis" background embellished with gold decorative elements is in line with the ostentation of both the luxury of the French court in the early 19th century, and the power of the subject.  Between 1806 and 1813, Napoleon commissioned eleven identical pieces from the manufactory, all identical to ours. However, they differ from our version because the signature of the decorator Étienne-Charles Le Guay is missing, as is the date, which leads us to presume that it was a gift from Napoleon I to Ferdinand III of Habsburg-Lorraine, uncle of his future second wife, Marie Louise

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    Section 1- Napoleon’s image

    Laurent Dabos (1762-1835)

    Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte

    before 1810
    oil on canvas
    Uffizi Galleries, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. Poggio Imperiale no. 522

    The painting, mentioned in the inventories since 1810, was probably executed around 1807, during the period of transition between the Kingdom of Etruria and Elisa Baciocchi’s ascent to the throne of Tuscany. It was probably the pattern for a piece of embroidery or a table in semi-precious stones, fruit of the Grand Duchess’s endeavors to revive the activities of the Galleria dei Lavori, personally commissioning various surfaces for consoles or furniture in semi-precious stones, not only to adorn the Pitti Palace, but often as gifts for her brother. Napoleon's face portrayed, as was customary in his court, as a classical divinity, recalls the heads of Capitoline Jupiter, commissioned in small mosaics and placed in the center of table tops created and disseminated in Rome, following the example of the one preserved today in the Palazzina della Meridiana. The effigy thus appears in tune with the imperial rank of Bonaparte, presented as a sun with rays radiating as far as the surrounding laurel wreath, in a similar style to the garlands painted by Carlo Carlieri and then translated into semi-precious stone works by Giovan Battista Giorgi.

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    Section 1- Napoleon’s image

    Pietro Benvenuti (Arezzo 1769 – Florence 1844)

    The Oath of the Saxons after the battle of Jena


    Oil on canvas

    In the lower right corner, on the second step "PIETRO BENVENUTI/ FECE IN FIRENZE/NEL 1812

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art

    Inv. Accademia 539

    The large, important imperial commission was carried out by Pietro Benvenuti after a trip he made to Paris between the end of 1809 and the early months of 1810. He was appointed to carry out the commission by order of the emperor himself in the French capital. The painting was finished in 1812. Although the depicted episode had occurred in the early afternoon, Benvenuti sets the scene at night, in the courtyard of the University of Jena, Napoleon stands in front of a portal, surrounded by the officials who had participated in the battle of Jena on October 14, 1806. Before him is Adjutant General Jean Baptiste Bessiéres and, slightly further back, General Joachim Murat in Hussar uniform. The figure with the turban is the faithful Mameluke Rustam, brought to France from the Egyptian campaign in 1798. Behind him are General Louis Alexandre Berthier and Marshal Jean Lannes, also in Hussar uniform. The composition of the painting is based on the model of David's famous Oath of the Horatii. It is very likely that Benvenuti was provided with source materials, in the form of the celebratory historical descriptions that appeared in official imperial documents, such as the "Bullettin de la Grande Armée".

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    Section 1 - Napoleon’s image

    Antonio Morghen, known as il Tenente (Rome 1788-Florence 1853)

    Napoleon on a Sled at the Beresina (Snowy scene)

    second quarter of the 19th century
    oil on canvas
    Palazzo Pitti, Gallery of Modern Art (deposits), Academy Inv. No. 476

    This bare, snowy scene, a typical example of the work of "Lieutenant" Morghen, reveals the charm of the Flemish landscapes and is pervaded by an atmosphere of poignant melancholy that provides the perfect accompaniment to the hero’s defeat. The painting evokes a painful episode of Napoleon's epic: during the disastrous campaign in Russia, between 26 and 27 November 1812, the French army was annihilated by the enemy army near the city of Studjanka, crossed by the Beresina river. Bonaparte was forced to abandon the supreme command, arousing feelings of frustration among his men for the defeat, and shame for the abandonment. A state of mind experienced personally, and interpreted with sincere engagement, by Antonio Morghen, who, having been introduced to landscape painting by his father Raffaello, famous engraver, had preferred to temporarily set aside his work as an artist, to enlist in the Napoleonic army as an officer, until the political fortune of the great leader ran out. When he resumed painting, around 1820, Lieutenant Morghen succeeded in making a name for himself in the academic exhibitions of those years for his extremely fine pictorial rendering of different atmospheric situations, favoring the effects of snow, as featured in this work.

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    Section 1 - Napoleon’s image

    Luigi Calamatta (Civitavecchia, 21 giugno 1801 – Milano, 8 marzo 1869)

    Mask of Napoleon

    18th century

    black pencil on paper

    Uffizi Galleries, Department of Prints and Drawings

    Inv. 20936

    Funerary masks were objects that long determined the history of the Napoleonic cult. They were obtained using a system that created a cast on the face of the deceased, one of the most modern ways to record the cause of death, since photography had not yet been invented. During Napoleon’s reign, France had a strong tradition of creating these artifacts. In this case, Francesco Antommarchi, Napoleon Bonaparte’s personal physician, having performed his autopsy, obtained the cast, and sent it to Lord Burghersh, British ambassador in Florence, with the intention of delivering it to Antonio Canova, so that he could make a sculpture of it. The funeral mask was replicated in profile in 1840 and in mezzotint in 1844 by Luigi Calamatta. The mark left by the chiaroscuro highlights Napoleon's facial features, while the addition of a series of symbols, from the imperial crown to the eagle, celebrates his political role as Emperor of the French.

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    Section 2 – The Bonaparte Family

    Napoleon's artistic propaganda, which sanctioned the birth of the Empire style, also involved members of the Bonaparte family, to whom the emperor had entrusted prestigious political offices, with the precise intent of controlling the various territories under his rule. The collections of the Uffizi Galleries preserve an important collection of effigies of Napoleon's brothers and sisters painted on canvas, engraved on medals or presented in the ideal beauty of antique busts made of marble or biscuit.


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    Section 2 – The Bonaparte Family

    Carl Friedrich Voight (Berlin 1800 – Trieste 1874)

    Portrait of Josephine de Beauharnais Bonaparte

    approx. 1825
    Medal in wax and bronze
    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art
    Pitti Inv. Objects of Art 1911 no. 51

    Joséphine's profile stands out elegantly against the black background of the cameo. Some of its details, such as the too-thin lips, the slightly arched neck, the Greek hairstyle, echo the physiognomy of the famous portrait by François Gérard, now at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

    Defined as "the little creole", Joséphine was endowed with a combination of natural grace and self-awareness, qualities that had attracted Napoleon Bonaparte and led him to choose her as his wife in 1796, when he was still a general, and then make her Empress of the French. Although she had been born in Martinique as Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher, she was destined to go down in history not as Rose, but as Joséphine, changing her baptismal name, in line with a custom also followed by Napoleon's sisters. It was Joséphine who bought the famous country castle of Malmaison, cultivating its infinite varieties of roses and flowers and making it the couple’s favorite residence. It was home to an exquisite art collection, including several works seized by Napoleon during the Italian campaign.

    The author of this precious artifact, Carl Voight, chief engraver and medalist at the Royal Mint of Munich of Ludwig of Bavaria from 1825 to 1855, married painter and miniaturist Teresa Fioroni in Rome in 1830, having lived in the city from 1825 and 1829, where he befriended sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and Nazarene painter Peter Cornelius. The rendering of the face, circumscribed by an abstract line, is reminiscent of the purist style of these artists.

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    Section 2 – The Bonaparte Family

    Sèvres Manufactory and Augustin Liancé or Alexandre Brachard (based on a work by François Joseph Bosio)

    Bust of Empress Marie Louise of Habsburg-Lorraine

    Biscuit; gray marble (base)
    Inscription: “Sevres; A B 8.M.rs O Z; A L” imprinted
    Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. Pitti Objects of Art no. 212

    The bust is a faithful translation in biscuit of the official portrait of Empress Marie Louise of Hapsburg-Lorraine commissioned by her consort Napoleon Bonaparte to sculptor François Joseph Bosio and presented at the Paris Salon of 1810. The decision to make it in biscuit was motivated both by its visual similarity with the whiteness of marble, particularly appreciated in the neoclassical period, and by its ability to better define the sculptural details, due to the absence of glazing.

    Our piece was donated on June 21, 1811 to the Grand Duke of Würzburg, Ferdinand III of Habsburg Lorraine, to mark the baptism of the King of Rome, his godson, as confirmed by the inscription engraved in the paste. It also states the date of execution, March 8, 1811, along with the initials "AL", which identify modeler Augustin Liancé, and "A B", variously attributed to the director of the factory, Alexandre Brongniart, or to the sculptor Alexandre Brachard, who executed several busts of the empress in that year.

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    Section 2 – The Bonaparte Family

    Sèvres Manufactory and Marie-Philippe Coupin de La Couperie

    Oval vase

    Porcelain painted in polychrome and gilde
    Inscription: “XX.MARS.MDCCCXI”; “Coupin End. fecit”
    Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Pitti Palace Furniture Inv., no. 16969

    This vase, oval in shape and without handles, was one of Napoleon I's gifts to Ferdinand III of Habsburg-Lorraine, for being the godfather at the baptism of his son, the King of Rome, in 1811 in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. On this occasion, he also received other porcelains made in the Sèvres Manufactory from the Emperor which, in 1814, when he returned from exile, he took with him to the Pitti Palace.

    In the decoration of this piece the imperial attributes of the eagle with spread wings, and military trophies, are visible in a medallion on the back, while in the frontal one the Allegory of Hymen is depicted in polychrome. In relation to the aforementioned baptism, it has been interpreted as a depiction of Napoleon I and his second consort, Marie Louise of Habsburg-Lorraine, as they lift their son towards the statue of the god Mars. As revealed by the signature on the vase, the creator and decorator of this scene is Marie-Philippe Coupin de La Couperie, who designed it in 1809. 

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    Section 2 – The Bonaparte Family

    Francesco Pozzi (Portoferraio 1790 – 1844)

    Bust of Pauline Bonaparte Borghese

    approx. 1816
    Uffizi Galleries, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. Objects of Art 1911 no. 489; GMA Deposits no. 67

    Maria Paola Bonaparte, “Paoletta”, or as she went down in history “Paolina Borghese” was the "graceful princess" immortalized by Canova as Venus Victrix. She died at the age of 45 years in the former Villa Strozzi in the Florentine countryside, after a dissolute life characterized by whimsical love stories and marital infidelity.

    Born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on the day of Venus, October 20, 1780, Pauline had stood out from a very young age for her non-conformist temperament and her almost divine qualities. She was said to have been strong and vindictive like Athena, sensual and bewitching like Aphrodite, powerful and unscrupulous like Hera, sweet and perfect like Venus.

    Compared to her sisters, Elisa Baciocchi and Carolina Murat, Pauline was the closest to her brother Napoleon, supporting his political actions and comforting him during the years in which he was exiled to Elba and then to Saint Helena.

    The bust of Pauline Bonaparte Borghese in the Pitti Palace was made by Tuscan sculptor Francesco Pozzi during his retirement in Rome and donated to the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1819. Pozzi's style reflects the idea of divine beauty embodied by the subject, in which the symmetrical balance of the composition and the idealization of the face are inspired by the classicism of Canova. However, some naturalistic elements, such as the hairstyle, featuring ringlets hanging down, and held back by a band around her head, recall the Empire style of the time, sported with great charm and success by Pauline.

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    Section 2 – The Bonaparte Family

    Real Fabbrica di Napoli, under the management of Poulard Prad

    Cup with effigy of Carolina Bonaparte

    approx. 1810
    Biscuit and gold-plated porcelain
    Pitti Palace, Treasure of the Grand Dukes, Inv. AcE, no. 1014

    The cup made in the Royal Porcelain Factory of Naples reproduces in relief the portrait of Carolina Bonaparte, wife of the King of Naples, Joachim Murat and younger sister of Napoleon I. The decision to finish the outer surface in biscuit enhances the facial features of the subject of the effigy.  The internal glazing, on the other hand, was necessary to prevent the coffee in the cup from darkening the porcelain, but it was enhanced by the gilding, an obvious allusion to the royal client.

    The model for our exemplar could have come to the Neapolitan manufactory, through Carolina, since a similar "chicchera" had been produced in those same years by the French manufactory of Dagoty, which had imperial protection.

    It is likely that the specimen presented here belonged to Elisa Baciocchi, sister of Caroline and Napoleon, who became Grand Duchess of Tuscany in 1809.  Around 1813, it may have inspired the Manifattura Ginori in Doccia to create a cup with Baciocchi's face on it.

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    Section 2 – The Bonaparte Family

    Jean-Baptiste Wicar (copy by) (Lille 1762 - Rome 1834)

    Portrait of Louis Bonaparte

    oil on canvas
    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. 1890, no. 3561

    Louis was considered the favorite brother of Napoleon, who had placed him on the throne of Holland by forcing him to wed Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte and her first husband, Count Alexandre de Beauharnais.

    In 1810, due to the major differences with his brother the Emperor, Louis decided to abdicate the throne to his son Louis Philippe, but his ascension only lasted for a few days, as Napoleon preferred to annex the Netherlands to France. In this portrait Louis wears the white and vermilion uniform of the Dutch Dragoons, with his decorations in full view on his chest.

    The Napoleonic Museum in Rome hosts another painting by Wicar contemporary to this one, in which the protagonist is portrayed wearing the same shiny French army uniform, together with his favorite son, young Napoleon Louis. It was, however, his other son, Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who went far, being first elected President of the Republic, from 1848 to 1852, and later, self-proclaimed Emperor of the French, bearing the title Napoleon III (1852-1870).

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    Section 3 - The Napoleonic Sovereigns: The Kingdom of Etruria

    Napoleon's troops entered Florence on April 7, 1799 and two years later the Treaty of Luneville sanctioned the end of the Lorraine's dominion with the renunciation of Tuscany in favor of the French conquerors. Thus was created the Kingdom of Etruria, formally assigned to Lodovico and Maria Luisa of Borbone, but in fact under the control of Napoleon. So, on August 12, 1801, the royal couple made its solemn entrance in Florence and from the beginning introduced an unusual splendor compared to the bourgeois sobriety of the court of Lorraine: after the untimely death of Lodovico, which occurred in 1803, the young widow, regent for her still young son, Carlo Lodovico, maintained the sumptuous etiquette in vogue at the Spanish court and Palazzo Pitti became the scene of balls and lavish receptions, to which were invited the greatest exponents of the European aristocracy.

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    Section 3 - The Napoleonic Sovereigns: The Kingdom of Etruria

    Tuscan school

    Portrait of Charles Louis of Bourbon, King of Etruria

    oil on canvas
    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. 1890, no. 2832

    On March 21, 1801, the Convention of Aranjuez transformed Tuscany into the Kingdom of Etruria, entrusting it, under a puppet regime established by Napoleon, to Charles Louis of Bourbon, son of the Duke of Parma, and his wife, Marie Louise, daughter of King Charles IV of Spain. The new Bourbon kings came to Florence on August 10, 1801 where a cool reception awaited them: they were looked upon with suspicion by the intellectuals, who considered them reactionaries, and as invisible by the Florentine aristocracy, who considered them foreigners and emissaries of Napoleon, and as such, enemies. The first years of government highlighted the political inconsistency of the new sovereign, who was psychologically unstable and suffered from a serious form of epilepsy that would eventually lead to his death on May 27, 1803 at the age of only thirty years old. The Countess of Albany gave us a reasonably benevolent but also ironic portrait of the Bourbon sovereign’s personality in this sharp summary: "If he reasoned it would not be too bad, because he is witty and aspires to do good, but he looks like King Saul [...] oppressed by the vengeance of God for having taken away the kingdom from someone else".

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    Section 3 - The Napoleonic Sovereigns: The Kingdom of Etruria

    Wilhelm Titel (Boltenhagen 1784 – Greufswald 1807)

    The Queen of Etruria with her children Charles Louis and Luisa Carlota

    Oil on canvas

    c. 1807

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art

    Maria Luisa Josefina Antonieta Vicenta, Infanta of Spain, was the daughter of Charles IV and, at the tender age of thirteen, she married her cousin Louis of Bourbon, hereditary prince of the Duchy of Parma, for dynastic reasons. In August 1801, she followed her husband to Florence, after his proclamation as King of Etruria by Napoleon. Following the premature death of Louis I, in 1803, his young wife had to take over the governance of the State, assuming the regency on behalf of her son, Charles Louis, then still a child. A wise, extremely devout woman, Marie Louise was particularly attentive to the management and recovery of public finances, and education: she established the Academy of Catholic Religion and a high school for higher education in science.

    In this portrait, the Queen of Etruria is depicted with her children. The young King of Etruria is wearing the large blue and white ribbon with the colors of the Spanish order of Charles III, while the little girl is pointing to her deceased father depicted on the medallion she holds proudly aloft in her hand. The back of the chair on which Maria Luisa is sitting is exquisitely decorated in the "Etruscan" style, a decorative motif she loved so much that she also had it specially carved on the furniture of her own room.

    As shown by the signature recently found, the painting is a very faithful copy taken from the lost original work by Pietro Benvenuti executed in 1806.

    The Swedish painter Titel, author of this copy, was trained in Dresden around 1801, coming into contact with Gaspar David Friedrich, and then stayed in Italy, between Rome and Florence, from 1806 to 1819. In the first years of his stay in the Tuscan capital, where he had been hosted by the landscape painter Philipp Hackert, he had obtained a certain fame as a copyist and portrait painter. This copy, the result of a study made directly on the original of the illustrious master Benvenuti, dates back to that period.


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    Section 3 - The Napoleonic Sovereigns: The Kingdom of Etruria

    François-Xavier Fabre (attr.) (Montpellier 1766 - Florence 1837

    Portrait of Marie Louise of Bourbon, Queen of Etruria

    oil on canvas
    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. 1890, no. 5200

    The half-length effigy of Marie Louise of Bourbon, with its strictly neoclassical style, had served as a study for a large official portrait of the Bourbon family painted by Francois-Xavier Fabre between 1803 and 1804 and sent to Spain. The painter, who fled to Florence from Rome because of the anti-French uprising, befriended the Countess of Albany and later became the painter at the court of Elisa Baciocchi. Despite the Bourbon queen’s stocky, plump physique, her hardly regal appearance and the fact that she had a hunchback and hip dysplasia, Fabre was able to temper her characteristic physical flaws, such as her heavy chin and head set squarely on her shoulders, by enhancing other, graceful details of her face to create a contrast, such as the sweetness of her gaze, her fine features and fresh complexion. The painter's penchant for, and attention to, detail emerges in his portrayal of the sovereign’s delicate hairstyle, featuring an aigrette (an ornament made from a plume of feathers), pearls and roses woven into her hair. Maria Luisa wears a light, empire style dress, tied under the breast with a blue and white ribbon, the colors of the Spanish order of Charles III and enriched by the presence of two jewels in full view: the order of the Starry Cross, of Hapsburg derivation and the order of Marie Louise, created for her by her father Charles IV of Spain, bearing witness to the almost maniacal passion she harbored for this type of honor.

    Such an ostentation of power and noble awards would turn out to be very different from the political situation at the time, which would demonstrate the ephemeral nature of the kingdom of Etruria, soon destined to fall, destroyed by the hand of its very creator, Napoleon.

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    Section 3 - The Napoleonic Sovereigns: The Kingdom of Etruria

    Antonio Canova (Possagno 1757- Venice 1822)

    Venus Italica

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Palatine Gallery, Inv. Palatina (1812) no. 878

    In 1802, at the height of his fame, while passing through Florence, Antonio Canova was appointed by the King of Etruria, Louis of Bourbon, to replace the Venus de’ Medici with a copy. Formerly exhibited in the center of the Tribuna of the Uffizi, on September 11 of the same year it had been requisitioned by the French authorities and sent to the Louvre.

    At first reluctant to entertain the idea of a replica, the Venetian sculptor eventually accepted, enticed both by the proposal to replace such a masterpiece and by the strong patriotic connotations that the undertaking had immediately assumed. In the meantime, however, Canova had the idea of challenging the ancient statue with a standing Venus, this time of his own invention. This prestigious commission was confirmed in 1805 by the Queen Regent of Etruria, Marie Louise of Bourbon, and ended up replacing the idea of making a twin replica of the ancient one.

    In 1809, the new sovereign Elisa Baciocchi, just installed as Grand Duchess of Tuscany by her brother Napoleon, succeeded in convincing the emperor to pay Canova the 25,000 francs agreed upon, and on April 29, 1812, the sculptor’s Venus Italica reached the Tribuna of the Imperial Gallery of Florence. Instead of using the pedestal of the Medici statue, it was placed on a new rotating base, designed to highlight the novelty of his creation. In fact, the divinity by Canova differed from the illustrious original, as she was depicted while demurely drying herself after coming out of the bath, a vase of perfumed ointments at her feet. The subject’s natural grace is accentuated, compared with the conventionality of the concept of ideal beauty: Canova’s work depicts a beautiful woman, capable of making people fall in love, while the ancient one portrays an impassive, albeit beautiful Goddess, in line with the famous contrast expressed by Ugo Foscolo.

    After the fall of Napoleon, in 1815 Canova went to Paris as an emissary of the papal state to negotiate the return of the works stolen by Bonaparte, and the ancient Venus was restored to its place in the Tribune, while the Venus Italica, now dethroned, was transferred to Palazzo Pitti.

    Room of Venus
    Architettura | Gli Uffizi
    Artwork details
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    Hellenistic art

    Venus de' Medici

    Late 2nd century B. C. - Early 1st century B. C.
    Parian marble, lychnite variant
    Uffizi, Tribune, Inv. 1914 no. 224

    In the morning he came to the Gallery with all his generals in tow. He lingered a great deal over the Venus; he spoke to me a great deal about her. He told me to be careful that Tuscany did not declare war, because he would have her taken to Paris”. Tommaso Puccini, director of the Uffizi Gallery, to whom we owe this memory of Napoleon's visit to the museum on July 1, 1796, took his illustrious guest's threat very seriously. When, in September 1800, Puccini organized the transfer of the Gallery's most important works to Palermo to save them from the imminent arrival of the French troops, the Venus de' Medici was at the top of the list. Napoleon, however, was a man of his word and, two years later, in a sudden blitz conducted with absolute disregard for all rules of international law, the statue was seized by a handful of French soldiers and embarked on a ship that took it from Sicily to Marseille. On August 16, 1803, the First Consul had the joy of being able to admire the Florentine Venus at the center of the Salle de Vénus, perhaps the most grandiose and magnificent setting of the new Musée Napoléon. For twelve years, the statue was the pride and joy of the Parisian collection, where, for the first and only time in its exhibition history, it was set alongside the other classical archetype of female beauty, the Capitoline Venus, which had already left Rome in 1797, again at Napoleon's behest.

    Medici Venus
    Architettura | Gli Uffizi
    Artwork details
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    Giovanni Socci (Ponte a Ema, Florence approx. 1755 – Florence 1842)


    1807 post
    Mahogany and elm wood, golden bronzes
    Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. MPP 1911, no.17182

    The precious piece of furniture which, when closed, is compact and oval, is a replica with variations of another desk confirmed as having been made in 1807 for the Queen of Etruria Maria Luisa of Spain, now located in the Apartment of the Tapestries, also in Palazzo Pitti.

    The author of both was Giovanni Socci, who, in this piece on display in the Gallery of Modern Art, declared himself to be a cabinet-maker in Florence with a workshop in Piazza dei Mozzi, as mentioned on a brass plate visible inside.

    The desk is fascinating due to a complex mechanism that allows the user to slide a chair from the main body, pull out a surface that reveals a further shelf, which can, if necessary, be tilted for use as a lectern. Then, a shelf with compartments, used to store letters and writing accessories, can be raised at the back.

    Mechanical furniture was particularly sought after from the eighteenth century and this kind made by Socci, which were compact and of an elegant shape, found favor with both Napoleonic queens, since Elisa Baciocchi also had another version made, which has not been identified to date.

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    Works Gallery

    Table centerpiece


    Lapis lazuli, chalcedony, gilded bronze

    Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art 

    Inv. Argenti senza estimo no. 79


    A background of pure lapis lazuli, framed by a continuous motif of palmettes, ribbons and chalcedony pearls, hosts two noteworthy military triumphs and three crowns of leaves: oak leaves in the middle and olive leaves on the sides, the latter originally enriched with the Napoleonic monogram. The precious centerpiece was in fact intended for the emperor.

    The design dates back to Marie Louise of Bourbon, Queen of Etruria, and work on it had commenced in early 1807 in the Florentine laboratories of the Gallerie dei Lavori or Works Galleries, specialized in the realization of commissions in semi-precious stones. Neither Napoleon, nor the first client, nor Elisa Baciocchi who continued the initiative, lived to see the work completed.

    The splendid dessert did not arrive in Pitti until 1816.

    Ferdinand III of Lorraine, in the meantime reinstated on the throne of the Grand Duchy, ordered the elimination of all the "N"s, a reference to the usurper, in a gesture that symbolically sanctioned the Restoration. He had it finished by adding nothing more than a simple gilded bronze frame, but nevertheless respected the synthetic and austere elegance of early imperial style. A stylistic identify that qualifies the piece as a rare masterpiece of an era that had just ended.

    Centrepiece of Elisa Baciocchi
    Architettura | Gli Uffizi
    Artwork details
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    Luigi Sabatelli

    The dream of Solomon

    Uffizi Gallleries, Pitti Palace, Quartiere della Meridiana

    In the last years of her Regency, Marie Louise of Bourbon decided to reorganize the Quartiere della Meridiana, which today houses the Museum of Costume and Fashion. In particular, in 1807, she commissioned Luigi Sabatelli, one of the most esteemed artists of the time, to fresco the vault of her bedroom, depicting the Dream of Solomon inside a medallion, the oldest pictorial decoration preserved in the building.

    The biblical episode taken from the First Book of Kings, tells how the king of Israel, successor to the throne following the death of his father David and still a young, inexperienced boy, prayed to God in a dream, asking him to grant him the wisdom he needed to govern his people fairly. For Marie Louise, the ancient theme was chosen as an allusion to the hope that her son, twelve-year-old Charles Louis - in whose name she was regent after the death of her husband, Louis I, in 1803 - would govern in the future. It was a clear reference to the Florentine politics of that period, skillfully highlighted by Sabatelli who inserts into the composition elements of Empire-style furniture similar to those then being located in the Meridiana, such as the sumptuous bed where Solomon rests, and the round table where the crown is placed, metaphorically almost hovering in the balance.

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    On October 27, 1807, following the Treaty of Fointainebleau, Tuscany became a dependency of France and two years later Napoleon Bonaparte restored the Grand Duchy of Tuscany for his sister Elisa who, starting in 1805, was already princess of Lucca and Piombino. As soon as she settled in Palazzo Pitti with her husband Felice Baciocchi, Élisa introduced a policy of renewed patronage, capable of attracting to Florence sculptors of European fame such as Antonio Canova and Lorenzo Bartolini, painters such as Luigi Sabatelli and Pietro Benvenuti, famous musicians such as Spontini and Paisiello, while Ugo Foscolo composed the poem Le Grazie, inspired by the atmosphere of refined elegance similar to the Renaissance courts that animated the Florentine palace.

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    Pietro Benvenuti (Arezzo 1769- Florence 1844)

    Elisa Baciocchi in the middle of her court, surrounded by her artists

    Oil on canvas
    Musée National du Chateau de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles

    In spring 1812, Canova was staying in Florence where, in addition to supervising the placement and unveiling of the Venus Italica, he also sculpted the bust of Elisa between April and May. Benvenuti was appointed to commemorate the event by painting a large canvas that would celebrate both the Grand Duchess’s endeavors as patron of the arts, and the sculptor’s exceptional skill. While drawing inspiration from the official imperial portraiture, as if the canvas were the image of a solemn ceremony, Benvenuti nevertheless modified the French tradition, putting the grand ducal family on the same level with the court dignitaries, the ladies-in-waiting, mostly belonging to the Florentine aristocracy, and the artists the Duchess protected. Elisa Baciocchi dominates the scene, sitting on the throne above the platform. Wearing a white dress with gold embroidery, which stands out against the red of the throne, she poses as a muse inspiring all the artists surrounding her, eager to inherit the role of great protectors of the arts in Florence. Twenty-six life-size characters crowd the canvas. Canova stands in front of the sovereign, showing Felice Baciocchi the bust placed on the elegant column pedestal. Baron Giovanni Degli Alessandri stands alongside the queen. On the left, in addition to the ladies of the court, we recognize artists Giovanni Antonio Santarelli, who is chatting to Tommaso Puccini, Raffaello Morghen, and Salomon Guillaume Counis. Francois Xavier Fabre and Benvenuti are depicted in the center of the painting, both intent on outlining the sovereign’s face at their easels, the former on canvas and the latter on paper. Behind the colonnade, in the right-hand corner, the view of Florence, the new "Athens of Italy", opens out.

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    Pietro Benvenuti (Arezzo 1769- Florence 1844)

    Study for composition featuring Elisa and her court

    Charcoal, traces of white lead and watercolor


    Uffizi, Department of Prints and Drawings 

    inv. No. 95672v

    The sketch documents an early idea for the composition of the large canvas of Versailles. Here, the sovereign is already depicted in what would be her position in the finished work. Degli Alessandri is missing, while Benvenuti, Fabre and Canova have already been added. The characters on the left are very roughly executed. Young Napoleona is standing next to her mother as a sign of the hope her mother placed in her future. In the painting a greyhound lies near Elisa, possibly the same one sculpted by Lorenzo Bartolini with Elisa as a nude young girl around 1810-1812. Two governesses are visible behind the young girl. The bust of Elisa sits on a stool and Canova is resting his foot on one of its crossbars. This object, replaced in another sketch by a stand made of blocks, would eventually become a column in the finished piece. This sequence is related to the change of poses, first in the atelier, then in a room loaned to Canova in the Accademia, and again in a meeting at court, eventually defined when the work was executed in the Grand Duchess's apartment in Palazzo Pitti.

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    Pietro Benvenuti (Arezzo 1769- Florence 1844)

    Study for composition with Elisa Baciocchi and her court

    Graphite pencil, black pencil on prepared paper


    Uffizi, Department of Prints and Drawings 

    inv. no. 96574r

    The large canvas of Versailles was completed in stages and the many preparatory drawings preserved in the Uffizi document in detail the various moments of its creation. This is the last drawing of the whole scene, the closest to the painting itself, in which the real protagonist becomes Canova. Here, the Doric colonnade under which the scene is set in the final draft is sketched in, and Baron Giovanni degli Alessandri, then president of the Academy of Fine Arts, as well as first chamberlain of the Grand Duchess and a great friend of Canova, makes his first appearance in a prominent position. He is standing next to the sovereign, showing her the bust that has just been unveiled. He may have been the one who suggested Benvenuti for the iconography of the painting, to be interpreted as a tribute to Canova, to whom the painter from Arezzo was also very attached. In addition to the secondary characters on the right, officers and soldiers on guard duty, the two figures located behind the row of seated women in the painting, Morghen and Counis, are missing in this draft. They were inserted when the final painting had already been started, paying homage to the prestigious Drawing Society of the Florentine Academy, which Degli Alessandri, Benvenuti, Morghen, Santarelli and Fabre joined 1811, the latter as its secretary.

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    Pietro Benvenuti (Arezzo 1769-Florence 1844)
    Oil on canvas
    Uffizi,Deposits, Inv. 1890 n. 1909

    The painting was donated by the artist at the official request of the Royal Gallery and its placement in the "great series of Painters" was approved in December 1837. Benvenuti was fifty-eight years old and had reached the apex of a great career: since 1803, as director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, he had decisively influenced the artistic culture of the Grand Duchy in the first four decades of the century. Thanks also to the support of Canova, he had been appointed by the Queen of Etruria as Director and Master of Painting at the Royal Academy of Florence, where he arrived in the spring of the following year, after leaving Rome. With the advent of Elisa Baciocchi he became the painter of the Napoleonic establishment.


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    François-Xavier Fabre (Montpellier 1766 – 1837)

    Portrait of Giovanni Antonio Santarelli


    Oil on canvas

    Left, in the background, painted inscription: “F.X. Fabre 1812”

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art


    Giovanni Antonio Santarelli (1758-1826) is depicted here as a half-figure, in a relaxed pose, similar to the one adopted in the large painting Elisa and her court by Pietro Benvenuti, now in Versailles. In that painting, the famous semi-precious stone engraver merited a place in the foreground, underlining the esteem with which he was held by the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. There, his pose is so similar to the one adopted in this portrait by Fabre that it is believed that Benvenuti used this work as a model for his own canvas, adding only the detail of the engraver's hand clasping a cameo with the silhouette of Elisa. Giovanni Antonio, in fact, went on to specialize in glyptics, as documented by his son Emilio, also a sculptor, who in his father's eulogy, describes his meteoric artistic career, in spite of his humble peasant origins, and his constant popularity with private clients, and with the Tuscan sovereigns from the Ancien Régime until the Restoration. Here, Fabre's renowned talent for portraiture is fully reflected in the virtuous combination of elegance and realism that reveals the energetic character of the subject, the restrained yet evident vivacity conveyed by his penetrating, stern eyes, his frowning eyebrows, and his ruffled, curly hair. With a view to creating a lifelike resemblance, the French painter highlights certain physical peculiarities of Santarelli, such as his wide jaw, sagging cheeks, and his thick neck, in his tight, pleated jabot.

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    Florentine school

    Portrait of Tommaso Puccini, prefect of the Florentine Museums

    c. 1815

    oil on canvas

    at the bottom: "Thomas Puccinius Praefectus Musei Flor"

    Uffizi Galleries, Inv. 1890, no. 314

    The monument to Tommaso Puccini bears a brief epitaph that recalls his proud opposition "to the robbery of the Florentine Gallery". And indeed, with the French army by then clamoring at the doors, the Director of the Royal Uffizi Gallery received an order from the Regency Council, coordinated by Grand Duke Ferdinand III in exile in Vienna: he was to save the precious assets of the Gallery by any means. So, in October 1800, Puccini managed to set sail from the port of Livorno on a ship loaded with works of art, and to take refuge in Palermo, under the protection of the English fleet, in a brave attempt to save the major art treasures of the Grand Ducal Galleries from Napoleon's requisitions, including the Medici Venus. But it would only prove a temporary way of stopping Napoleon's claims that the Medici statue be taken to his homeland: in the summer of 1802, the sculpture was delivered to the French, and shipped to Marseilles. A very fine intellectual, and a great connoisseur of art history, thanks to whose intuition the Uffizi Galleries acquired extraordinary masterpieces such as Raphael's Madonna del Granduca, Tommaso Puccini received no official honors upon his death on March 15, 1811. This portrait was generously commissioned by the then Director of the Academy of Fine Arts, Giovanni Degli Alessandri, at his own expense, as an addition to the famous Giovio series, "in the third corridor, following the Series of Illustrious Men". The author is still unknown.

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    Salomon Guillaume Counis (Geneva 1785- Florence 1859)

    Self Portrait

    Miniature in enamel on copper
    c. 1810

    Inscription on the back: “Counis peint par lui même en émail 1810”
    Uffizi Galleries, Deposits

    Inv.1890 no. 845

    Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi had met Swiss painter Salomon Guillaume Counis (1785-1859) in Paris, France in 1810, where he had exhibited several pieces in enamel, his area of expertise, at the Salon. The Grand Duchess appreciated his fine, elegant talent so much that she proposed he become her court painter. The artist agreed to move to Florence and paint portraits for her family, to be used to decorate jewels, watch cases, tobacco boxes, confirming the princess’ interest in this original and refined artistic genre. The Grand Duchess held the painter in such high esteem that she had him added to the large canvas now in Versailles, where he is depicted immediately behind the group of ladies-in-waiting, alongside older artist Raffaello Morghen. This precious effigy painted in enamel by Counis, proof of his excellent skills as a miniaturist, is signed and dated on the back with the phrasing “Counis peint par lui même en émail 1810”. It was created in the very year when he was called to Florence, as shown by his resemblance to the elegant young man with the bright expression portrayed in the large painting in Versailles. The work was donated to the collections of the Uffizi Galleries by its author in 1848, upon the death of his only daughter Elisa, along with several other pieces: three enamels, a series of litographs, his last self-portrait, an oil painting on canvas from around 1830, and finally the portrait of his daughter.

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    Giuseppe Bezzuoli (Florence 1784 – 1855)

    Portrait of Elisa Baciocchi with her daughter Elisa Napoleona

    approx. 1814
    oil on canvas
    Uffizi Galleries, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. Giornale GMA no. 5643

    Giuseppe Bezzuoli offers us a new take on Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, capturing her in a private dimension, far from the officiousness of the magniloquent group portraits, where the sovereign was presented in her role of patron, surrounded by the artists of her court, as in the famous painting by Pietro Benvenuti now preserved in Versailles.

    In this portrait, Elisa is sitting on a chair that resembles a curule seat (the sella curulis was a folding seat, adorned with ivory, a symbol of judicial power at the time of Rome). Her expression appears languid and pensive, and she is tenderly putting her left arm round her little girl’s shoulders. Her daughter, holding a turtle dove, a symbol of innocence, is anxiously staring at her mother’s face, trying with all her might to attract her attention and perhaps distract her from the worries afflicting her.

    The tone of domestic intimacy that pervades the painting evokes the iconography of the fifteenth-century Madonnas with Child, while the chromatic richness of the fabrics, as well as the shades of the landscape element, recall the palettes of Titian and Savoldo.
    Elisa’s melancholic and thoughtful expression is also reflected in the landscape in the background, where, under a serene sky strewn with threatening clouds, the silhouettes of the Florentine monuments seen from the Pitti Palace seem to fade and become pale simulacra, faintly illuminated by the twilight. In fact, the painting dates back to around 1814, when the definitive defeat of Napoleon would inevitably sanction the decline of the brief reign of his sister, who had also used her time in power to foster the political and cultural renewal of the Grand Duchy.


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    Pietro Benvenuti (Arezzo 1769 – Florence 1844)

    Portrait of Elena Mastiani Brunacci


    On the edge of the lower surface of the table: “P. Benvenuti 1809”

    oil on canvas

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art

    Inv. Giornale no. 260

    Seated in a pose that mirrors those of antique models, such as the Seated Agrippina of the Capitoline Museums, renewed by the Canovian precedent evoked in the statue of Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte, this modern matron appears in the calm intimacy of her drawing room, furnished in Imperial style, and brightened by the daylight that penetrates from the columned portico. The grand, official tone of the painting reflects the ambitious woman’s desire to appear à la page, in a context worthy of her status, that of a lady of the court and countess of the Empire, having her portrait painted by the most prestigious painter of her time, precisely in 1809, the year when Elisa Baciocchi became Grand Duchess of Tuscany. In that same year, Giovan Francesco Mastiani, Elena’s husband, was awarded the title of count of the Empire as repayment for his loyalty to the Napoleonic regime, as given away by the confident and proudly knowing look on the subject's face. The stately and monumental feel of the portrait, which combines the fortitude of the Neoclassical composition with the bright colorism of Titian, is mellowed by the concessions made to the sense of taste of the time. These are evident in the woman’s fashionable hairstyle, featuring charming lovelocks that divide the forehead and caress the powdered cheeks, or in the shape of the long, dark satin dress in with daringly low neckline, in flawless Napoleonic style.

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    Italian manufacture (Parma)

    Men's three piece formal suit

    c. 1805-10

    Liseré satin; embroidery in spun silver, silk thread, and sequins; tailcoat lining in ecru sarsenet silk; breeches lining in linen cloth.

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Museum of Fashion and Costume

    Inv. TA3088/TA3089/TA3090

    Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the men's suit underwent a simplification process in line with the neoclassical style, which resulted in the use of tailcoats with more discreet flaps; breeches, often of a longer length, tucked into boots; embroidered decorations with less lavish geometric patterns than those of previous ones. The use of lace also fell into disuse and the jabot (decorative lace accessory, attached to the neckband and fanning out on to the chest) was also used much less when the trend became to minimize frills. This adaptation of men's dress to meet the needs of greater functionality coincided with the growing popularity of English fashion, which was more comfortable and better-suited to country life, and so increasingly loved by both the aristocracy and the rising middle class.

    The three-piece suit represented here is from the Napoleonic era and it belonged to the family of the Moll Counts of Parma. It is an excellent example of the transition of the men’s suit from rococo to neoclassical style: the tailcoat is made of liseré silk satin and has a geometric embroidery executed in couching, long and short stitch and flat stitch in ivory silk thread, spun silver, and sequins with palmettes and cornflowers. The waistcoat has a banded collar, contoured flap pockets with cross flaps, and cut out waist. The knee-length breeches are ruched at the waist and fastened at the knee with three buttons.

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    Italian manufacture

    Lady’s dress

    c. 1810-15

    Cotton muslin, cotton thread and lace

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Museum of Fashion and Costume

    Inv. TA 5869

    The most innovative aspect of fashion in the Napoleonic era was the liberation of the female body from the rigid foundations of the dress. Garments finally became more comfortable, allowing the body to move without constriction. This occurred in the wake of the claims made in the Enlightenment that crinolines and corsets were bad for women’s health. Day or morning dresses were preferably made of very lightweight fabrics (muslin, tulle, and crepe), in light shades such as white or pastel colors, whereas velvet or satin were favored for evening dresses, often intricately embroidered with gold or silk threads.

    In line with the neoclassical style, the dress assumed, by analogy, the shape of a column, where the high waist, located below the breast, marked the boundary line between the vertical structure of the skirt, similar to the shaft of the column, and the horizontal course of the bust, similar to the capital, next to which the balloon sleeves recalled two volutes.

    The dress shown here fully meets these functional and aesthetic characteristics: it is devoid of foundations, made of embroidered white cotton muslin, tone on tone, with leaf motifs created using white cotton thread in slip stitch and drawn thread work. The oval neckline and short balloon sleeves are trimmed with mechanical lace. The waist is high and gathered, the back is fastened with buttons.

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    Sèvres Manufactory, Louis-Simon Boizot and Pierre Philippe Thomire

    Monumental vase

    Porcelain painted in “blu Nouveau” and gilded; gold-plated bronze
    Pitti Palace, Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments, Inv. Pitti Objects of Art no. 1518

    The model for our vase was conceived by sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot, who was inspired by the Greek krater vase preserved in the Medici collections in Rome, which had joined the collection of the Uffizi Gallery in 1780, hence the name Vaso Medici. In all likelihood, he would have had the opportunity to admire it in Rome, since he had stayed there when studying at the Academy of France between 1765 and 1769. From 1773 to 1757 he was appointed head modeler of the Manufacture of Sèvres but stayed on as "Artiste en chef".

    Given its large size, the vase presented here was made in several parts, assembled, and held together by gilded bronze applications made by Pierre Philippe Thomire. These applications also served to make up for the absence of the refined central band designed with a bas-relief decoration in biscuit, visible on the vase at the Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

    Our vase was sent to Palazzo Pitti as a gift from Napoleon I to Louis I of Bourbon, whom he named King of Etruria in 1801.

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    Gioacchino Belli (Rome 1756 – 1822)

    Trajan's Column

    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art

    Inv. MPP. 1911 no. 10679

    During the five years of Napoleon's rule, the idea of reformulating the city's urban spaces and, in particular, of creating places for the well-being of its citizens, began gaining ground in Rome. Napoleon, who was intrigued by the excavations in the Forum area, asked the superintendents to adapt the area to allow a closer look at the archaeological finds. The idea, which was at the basis of the Napoleonic cult, was intended on one hand to celebrate himself by comparing his endeavors to those of the glorious Roman past and on the other, to popularize the French lifestyle and etiquette in Italy. Proof of this mechanism can be found in the numerous testimonies which arrived in Florence, but only one of these is reliable: at the end of 1822 Ferdinand III had this Trajanic column, which had arrived at Palazzo Pitti in 1819, placed in the center of his lapis lazuli table centerpiece, testifying to the emperor’s strong bond with Rome, its imperial splendor, and symbolic monuments.

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    L. Grognot


    Early 19th century
    Gilded bronze
    Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. MPP 1911 no. 19141

    Knowing that in 1801 Pierre Sylvain Maréchal had worked on a "Bill to prohibit women from learning to read" makes this clock, made in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century, even more precious, among the many clocks from the imperial age on display at the Pitti Palace.

    We do not know the title of the book the young woman is holding, as she reclines on an elegant agrippina, a sofa with an antiquated style that was particularly fashionable in those years, as confirmed by the portrait of Pauline Borghese, Napoleon's sister, sculpted in marble by Antonio Canova. And the research completed thus far has also been unable to confirm with certainty when the object arrived in Florence, that is, whether following its creation, or later on. We can however imagine that both Maria Louise of Bourbon and Elisa Baciocchi, the sovereigns Bonaparte wanted on the throne of Tuscany, who were both educated and lovers of the arts, would undoubtedly have admired its shape and particular iconography.

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    Sèvres Manufactory

    Entrée and dessert service of Grand Duchess Elisa Baciocchi

    Porcelain painted in cobalt blue and gilded
    Florence, Porcelain Museum, Inv. AcE nos. 873-900

    The sumptuous service fully expresses the pomp of the French court with the profusion of gold exalted by the cobalt blue and the light blue of the background. It includes an entrée service and a dessert service. The assortments for both types of use are characterized by different decorations developed for Elisa Baciocchi, as commissioned by her brother Napoleon I, who gifted them to her when she became Grand Duchess of Tuscany in 1809 and came to live in the Palace of Palazzo Pitti.

    The entrèe service was used for dishes served after the appetizer or soup, and then the fish course, so for the third course, served just before the meat. Instead, the dessert service, still in use today, was presented at the end of the meal.

    Examining the decorations, the tableware for the entrèe is characterized by alternating golden flowers on a white and cobalt blue background, while the dessert service features much more elaborate motifs, with refined garlands interspersed with antiquarian-style medallions, and swans, the emblem of Baciocchi.

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    Section 4 - Elisa Baciocchi and her Florentine Court

    The imperial bathrooms of Palazzo Pitti for Napoleon and Marie Louise of Austria


    In 1811, a very dynamic Elisa Baciocchi commissioned Giuseppe Cacialli, royal architect, to create imperial quarters in the left wing of the piano nobile of Palazzo Pitti, where the Palatine Gallery is today, destined for her brother Napoleon and his second wife, Marie Louise of Austria.

    The decorative works planned for the new palatial rooms, for which a special artistic board had been assembled since May 1812, were characterized by continuous changes in the choice of subjects, which took their cue from ancient history or mythology to allude to Napoleon's military exploits and the virtues of Marie Louise.

    From the earliest designs, the new residential apartments also included a small bathroom intended for Napoleon and a second bathroom, composed of a rectangular space and a small boudoir or Round Cabinet, reserved for the empress. For these environments, a simple and exquisitely ornamental style conducive to the comfortable intimacy of rooms intended for hygiene and personal care was requested. Both rooms, veritable jewels in pure neoclassical style, are therefore characterized by a clear definition of the spaces marked by classical style columns and a distinguished, elegant ornamentation, limited to the presence of bas-reliefs and stucco frames, alternating with full-relief statues with Nymphs in niches. The decorations were commissioned to specialized craftsmen, dividing the tasks between painters, like Antonio Luzzi, who provided the drawings of the emblems and trophies, plasterers, such as ornamentalist Vincenzo Marinelli whose job it was to turn the designs into plaster, and a group of sculptors, including Salvatore Bongiovanni, Giovanni Insom and Domenico Bernardini, who executed the bas-reliefs and statues, inspired by pagan themes. All artists trained in the climate of renewed impetus that Elisa Baciocchi had created for the use of this elegant yet inexpensive material. The bathrooms were actually only completed following the Restoration when the Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Lorraine returned to Pitti. Some elements of the Napoleonic period are still visible, such as the polychrome marble floor inlaid with the emblem of Marie Louise by Antonio Bartolini in the bathroom of the Empress, or the four recycled antique green marble columns on attic bases, surmounted by Corinthian capitals, modeled by Vincenzo Marinelli, located in Napoleon’s bathroom.

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    Workshop in Lucca

    Wall table

    Second decade of the nineteenth century
    Wood with mahogany veneer, carved and painted bronze and gold, golden bronzes, marble top
    Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. MPP 1911 no. 20706

    Furniture sporting decorations inspired by Egyptian art - some of which are tiny- are not a rarity at the Pitti Palace. But this console certainly stands out for its ostentatious pair of front supports which probably depict two bearers. They are shown full-length and characterized by typical headdresses and loincloths, which are gilded and so stand out against their dark faces and bodies.

    The culture of ancient Egypt had also previously had its own limited circle of connoisseurs and admirers and in the late eighteenth century it had inspired the whimsical creations of Giovanni Battista Piranesi; however, it was only at the beginning of the nineteenth century that the "retour d'Égypte" style gained ground. In the wake of the exploits of Napoleon, commander in chief in the battles fought in those exotic lands, it soon became a fashion that swept up furniture and objects.

    The Egyptian campaign was documented by the drawings of Vivant Denon which illustrate the charm of the desert landscapes and provide numerous details of archaeological sites: In short, a sort of book of models adaptable to the most varied decorative needs. A translation of his Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt, preserved in the Magliabechiana Library of the Uffizi Gallery and published in Florence in 1808 by Giuseppe Tofani, printer in Piazza Pitti, testifies to the success of this publication in Italy.

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    Section 4 - Elisa Baciocchi and her Florentine Court

    Burgagni Manufactory

    Crimson red silk damask wall covering

    Palazzo Pitti, Imperial and Royal Apartments, Red Room

    Upon her arrival in Florence in 1809, Élisa Baciocchi set about creating a new quarter, on the second floor of the Pitti Palace, designed for her brother Napoleon and his consort Maria Louise. Her intention was to furnish the imperial apartment according to the latest French fashion. She therefore made every effort to source an assortment of fabrics for walls, curtains and monumental beds, a task that required a copious exchange of drawings, models, samples, and written evaluations with suppliers in Paris but also Lyon and Lucca, as traditional venues of silk production, on a par with Florence.

    However, her expectations were not immediately met. Ironically, the only wallpaper she commissioned, which is still hanging in a room of the palace, was in fact only delivered to the Guardaroba at the time of the Restoration.  The damask featured the star and bee motif, an obvious reference to Napoleon, but this did not prevent it from being used as a wall covering in the room used at the time of Ferdinand III, for the audiences of the Grand Duke from the House of Lorraine. Evidently, the appreciation of the damask eclipsed all and any other considerations. It had been woven by a Florentine manufactory, based on an example in silk from Lyon destined for the palace of Versailles.

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    Section 4 - Elisa Baciocchi and her Florentine Court

    Piat-Lefèvre manufactory, Tournai

    Rug with the sixteen Legion of Honor cohorts

    Palazzo Pitti, Imperial and Royal Apartments, Queen’s Drawing Room, MPP 1911 n.5196

    The theme of this velvety rug is the exaltation of the Legion of Honor, a chivalrous order created by Napoleon in 1802 to reward those who, even if not noble, had distinguished themselves for extraordinary merits. At the time the merits recognized were above all military, whereas nowadays civil values prevail.

    In the center there is a Maltese cross with five rays, surmounted by a laurel wreath, an honor that often stands out in portraits on the chest of Napoleon himself. This gives rise to the symbols of the sixteen cohorts which, on the model of the Roman army, constituted the organizational base of the Legion, in turn set out according to a ranking of grand officers, commanders, officers and chevaliers.

    The piece is a replica with the same quality of a piece made by the same Tournai manufactory, woven in 1812 for the Grand Cabinet of the castle of Saint-Cloud, now preserved in the Paris collections of the Mobilier National. It was commissioned by Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte for the apartment in Pitti intended for her brother the emperor, as recalled by the symbols of the crowned eagles; however, like many of the works ordered by this Grand Duchess, it did not arrive at the palace until after the Restoration and was located in a different environment from the one for which it had originally been intended

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    Section 4 - Elisa Baciocchi and her Florentine Court

    Camellias for the Grand Duchess Elisa

    The dedication to the Grand Duchesse Elisa of the 'Princesse Baciocchi’ variety of camellia, defined "magnifique" by abbot Lorenzo Bernese in the Monographie du genre Camellia published in Paris in 1845, was proof of her passion for this flower.

    Already in 1808, she asked her brother Giuseppe, King of Naples, to send her some of those propagated a few years earlier in the Royal Palace of Caserta for the grounds of the Royal Villa of Marlia and, once she had arrived in Florence, she did her best to introduce some of the same plants into the Boboli Garden too.

    The ideal place to grow them proved to be a small garden once used for bulbous plants, put in the shade when the floor of the Amphitheater was raised in the 18th century and large quantities of earth were moved there. We have evidence of work taking place in this space in February 1810 and the planting of the four varieties of Camellia japonica listed in 1817 could date back to that time: the beginnings of a collection destined to grow rapidly, and in fact to such an extent that a botanical inventory of 1841 already listed forty-five varieties.

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    A new entrance for the Rondò di Bacco

    During the few years Elisa Baciocchi spent in Florence as Grand Duchess of Tuscany, the Boboli Garden experienced an intense season of interventions aimed at maintaining it in good condition and adapting it to modern imperial tastes.

    One of the first works carried out was the reorganization of the Rondò di Bacco area, visible from Piazza Pitti, at the time known for being unfinished due to the construction sites which had been opened there in the previous decades without following a unified project. Architect Giuseppe Cacialli was in charge of improving its appearance, and he redesigned the guardhouse with the small loggia still standing today and added a well-kept lawn part to the square in front of it, used as a riding ground during the brief period of the Kingdom of Etruria. The two statues of the Dacians were also positioned at the beginning of the avenue that leads up to the Amphitheater, the venue of grand parties such as the one organized to celebrate Napoleon's victory at Wagram, with flares and a hot-air balloon adorned with the imperial eagle.

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    The Dacians in the Boboli Gardens

    Any citizen of Florence in the year 1810, when admiring the depictions on the Roman marble works just completed to monumentalize the main entrance to the Boboli Gardens, would immediately have thought of Napoleon. At no point did the ‘N’ of the Emperor of the French appear, but even the most distracted of viewers would have spontaneously compared those images of ancient triumphs to the incredible series of victories that the Corsican had achieved in the space of less than fifteen years in Europe and Africa. The porphyry statues of the Dacians, conceived to decorate the Forum of Trajan (erected between 107 and 112 A.D.) and to celebrate Trajan’s victories beyond the Danube, now became a metaphor for all those European peoples who were enjoying new peace and prosperity within Napoleon's borders. Even the reliefs of the Arcus Novus set into the base, a powerful expression of the official art of the Tetrarchic age (end of the 3rd century A.D.), with their depictions of German and Oriental barbarians led in chains, seemed to be an omen of a return to the universality of the empire of the Eternal City, which, in 1811, would greet Napoleon's son as its new king.

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    Section 4 - Elisa Baciocchi and her Florentine Court

    The plane trees of Boboli

    Elisa Baciocchi loved outdoor life and, having enjoyed the traditional Festa del Grillo organized in 1809 at the Parco delle Cascine, she regularly opened it to the public making it a regular meeting place for Florentines.

    In 1813, the trend of going for a stroll, which demanded paths that would offer plenty of shade, inspired the decision to add numerous plane trees to the Boboli Garden, running along the airy avenue in line with the Limonaia and decorating the Prato delle colonne. These trees enriched the garden with striking perspective views and colors, and, with the changing of the seasons, they would have mellowed the mainly evergreen appearance impressed on it during the eighteenth century.

    Scattered by the autumn wind, their leaves announced the imminent sunset of the Napoleonic dream. The Grand Duchess left Florence as soon as in the following year, in February 1814, without being able to see her plane trees dress themselves in their spring clothes, perhaps meditating on the words dedicated to her by her faithful friend and poet Louis de Fontanes:

    "This crisis will pass. If fate were always favorable, it would be too easy to be a hero. It is when fate is inconstant that those who are worthy of such a title can be judged".

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    Section 5 - The Cult of Napoleon in Florence: the Demidoffs

    Following the collapse of the Napoleonic empire, in 1815 the Congress of Vienna returned Tuscany to the previous sovereign, Ferdinand III of Lorraine, who took up residence again in the palace of Pitti. In the years of the Restoration, the Russian Demidoffs remained firm supporters of Napoleon, to whom they were bound by a bond of kinship, as Matilda, daughter of Jerome, younger brother of Bonaparte, had married Prince Anatoly Demidoff. The effigies and relics of Napoleon, present with great prominence in the sumptuous setting of the Demidoff collections in the spectacular residence of San Donato, testified to this coveted imperial kinship.

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    Section 5 - The Cult of Napoleon in Florence: the Demidoffs

    Carrara workshop

    Portrait of Jerome Bonaparte

    approx. 1801
    oil on canvas
    at the bottom, engraved with chisel "Jerome".
    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Inv. Giornale no. 2256

    After the fall of the Napoleonic empire, Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon's younger brother, to whom he had bestowed the title of King of Westphalia, was appointed Duke of Montfort. During the Restoration he chose none other than Florence as his home, where he lived for a long time, between Palazzo Orlandini and the Villa di Quarto.

    This herma-portrait, made in Carrara, is characterized by a strong idealization which is evident in the smooth rendering of the face, almost devoid of particular physiognomic features, and by a courtly tone that evokes the effigies of the ancient Roman busts. The absence of characterization in this bust confirms that it was modeled on the prototype by French sculptor François Joseph Bosio. We know that Jerome, clearly satisfied with the strong sense of heroism expressed by the portrait, ordered the production of many copies based on that model. His aim was to promote his image throughout the empire, in line with the same serial diffusion of the effigies of Napoleon and the Napoleonides that had kept not only masters such as Canova, Bartolini, Bosio and Chaudet busy for years, but also the workshops of less famous sculptors from Carrara. The latter were in fact commissioned to make marble or biscuit replicas of the busts of the Bonaparte family that would be distributed among the members of the imperial family, as in the case of this portrait, which originally belonged to Matilde, daughter of Jerome and later wife of Anatolio Demidoff.

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    Ary Scheffer (Dordrecht 1795 – Argenteuil 1858)

    Portrait of Matilde Bonaparte Demidoff

    oil on canvas
    Uffizi Galleries, Palazzo Pitti, Gallery of Modern Art, Giorn. 2366

    Refined portraitist, as well as author of sacred scenes and historical themes of romantic taste, Ary Scheffer, Dutch painter who worked in France, was defined as "peintres des ames" for his ability to translate a subtle attention to the nuances of expression into looks and poses that expressed personal attitudes, as well as social roles. Thus, Princess Matilde Bonaparte Demidoff is portrayed looking haughty and thoughtful, with a regular design reminiscent of the forms favored by Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres. The monumental environment in which she poses recalls the style of the villa of San Donato in Polverosa, near Florence, known in her honor as Villa Matilde, which housed an important collection of paintings, and was a hub of inspiration and study for mid-nineteenth century Tuscan painters.

    Matilde (1820-1904), daughter of Jerome, Napoleon's brother, in 1840 married Count Anatolio Demidoff (1813-1870) in Florence, who was appointed Prince of San Donato by Grand Duke Leopold II. The union of Matilde Bonaparte and the son of rich Russian industrialist and philanthropist Nicola Demidoff was convenient for both parties: Matilde acquired a respectable economic position and Anatolio a more than illustrious kinship.

    The portrait, painted in Paris in 1844, is a tribute to the Bonapartism that reigned at Villa Demidoff, in particular in the impressive frame made in Florence by the workshop of Fratelli Pacetti, bearing Matilde’s monogram and the imperial eagle.

    Unfortunately, the marriage was far from successful: the couple soon separated and two years later Matilde moved to Paris, where she started a popular literary salon.

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    Jean Baptiste Fortuné De Fournier (France, Ajaccio 1798 - Paris 1864)

    Two views of the hall of Villa Demidoff in San Donato in Polverosa

    gouache on paper mounted on canvas
    bottom, inscription "Florenz 1841".
    Uffizi Galleries, Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art
    Inv. Giornale GMA nos. 2475-2476

    The two paintings preserved in the Gallery of Modern Art of Palazzo Pitti, were executed in 1841 by Jean Baptiste Fortuné De Fournier, popular watercolorist, miniaturist, and engraver, who had trained in Florence in an environment where strict compliance with neoclassical style was still the norm. In the forties, De Fournier achieved a certain notoriety, thanks to his views of state apartments and sumptuous environments rendered with a wealth of detail and often exhibited at the Salon in Paris. The two watercolors, which offer two different perspectives of the Hall of Villa Demidoff in San Donato, had been commissioned to the painter together with another pair of views, depicting the library and the chapel. Having spent a long time in the collection of the descendants of Paolo and Anatolio Demidoff in Pratolino, they were purchased by the Florentine Galleries in April 1869.


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    The two gouaches illustrate the refinement and splendor of the space, dominated by the great dome, decorated with the Stories of Cupid and Psyche by Roman painter Carlo Morelli, one of the few Italian artists esteemed by Anatolio Demidoff, who also commissioned him to paint two portraits of Leopold II and his second wife, Marie Antoinette. As evidenced by the profusion of Napoleonic memorabilia, paintings and statues exhibited in the hall, many of which depict the Bonaparte family, Anatolio Demidoff, son of Russian industrial magnate and philanthropist Nicholas, was a fervent supporter of Napoleon and maintained his Bonapartist faith even after he divorced his wife, Matilda Bonaparte (1820-1904) in 1846, when she left for Paris.

Uffizi and Napoleon

Works, places and memories in the collections of the Galleries


Concept and scientific curatorship: Alessandra Griffo, Elena Marconi

Texts: Daniele Angelotti, Rita Balleri, Andrea Cartia, Liletta Fornasari, Vanessa Gavioli, Alessandra Griffo, Elena Marconi, Fabrizio Paolucci, Giuseppe Rizzo, Chiara Ulivi

Coordination: Francesca Sborgi

Text and web editing Patrizia Naldini, Andrea Biotti

Translations: Eurotrad srl

Photo credits:

For the works in the collections of the Uffizi Galleries: Andrea Biotti, Francesco Del Vecchio, Roberto Palermo; for Pietro Benvenuti's painting "Elisa Baciocchi e la sua corte":© RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles), Daniel Arnaudet

Data di pubblicazione: 5 maggio 2021

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