Giovanni Battista Grimaldi, elder brother of Don Luigi Grimaldi and husband of Fanny Grimaldi, died in Paris on 4 February 1803, leaving to his brother the responsibility of caring for his bride of only eight months, Fanny Grimaldi, née Baronne von Bürkenwald. Soon thereafter, Don Luigi and his sister-in-law fell in love and were engaged to be married, but in a tragic turn of fate, she too fell fatally ill and died on 6 February 1804, almost one year to the day after her husband. Although the circumstances surrounding her death have never been securely documented, Benoit asserted as early as 1878 that Fanny, "victime de sa beauté," was poisoned by her doctor, whose amorous advances she had rejected.1 The Countess of Albany wrote about Fanny's untimely death to a friend in Vienna: "je vois tous les jours mourir des jeunes personnes qui ne demanderaient qu'à vivre".2
After his fiancée's death, Don Luigi, an amateur musical composer who was also well-known in Florentine literary circles, commissioned Fabre to paint her posthumous portrait, in which she appears standing between life and death, drawn to the tomb of her husband Giovanni Battista on the right, while a hovering figure of Cupid implores her to return to this world, as symbolized by the luminous landscape on the left.3 The inscription below Bettelini’s 1806 engraving reads: "Cupidon conjugis ante diem rapti nova cura/ Fanniam desiderio tabecsentem sollicitat" (sic). (Cupid urges Fanny, who wastes away with sorrow for her husband prematurely wrenched from life, to other thoughts.) Quite surprisingly, the portrait of the Marquise remained unknown for some time, known only through the engraving by Pietro Bettelini. The portrait of the Marquis, which shows him leaning melancholically on his fiancée's tomb, is also an important work within Fabre's oeuvre. Dr. Laure Pellicer notes that the portraits are closely related in style to Fabre's Portrait of the Countess Skotnicka of 1807 (Cracow, National Museum) and to his Portrait of the Marquise de Pine of 1803 (Rome, private collection).4
1. Benoit also hypothesized that Fabre himself may have harbored a secret passion for the pretty young widow, op. cit., p. 333.
2. trans: "Everyday I see young people die would be eager to live". L. Pélissier, Lettres inédits de la Comtesse d'Albany à ses amis de Vienne, Deuxiéme série 1802-1809, Toulouse, 1912, p. 125.
3. On the open tomb to the right is the inscription: “GIOV. BAT. GRIMALDI/DELLA PIETRA/MDCCCIII”
4. Pellicer, op. cit., 2008, p. 275
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