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MARIA LETIZIA BONAPARTE, MADAME MÈRE

A tortoiseshell portrait snuffbox with gold mounts, Pierre André Montauban, Paris, 1798-1809
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42

MARIA LETIZIA BONAPARTE, MADAME MÈRE

A tortoiseshell portrait snuffbox with gold mounts, Pierre André Montauban, Paris, 1798-1809
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

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A tortoiseshell portrait snuffbox with gold mounts, Pierre André Montauban, Paris, 1798-1809
rectangular, the lid set with an oval miniature of Maria Letizia Bonaparte, Madame Mère, by Jean Baptiste Isabey, after François Pascal Simon, circa 1805, wearing a diamond and ruby-set tiara part covered by a white veil embroidered with gold stars, and a white chemise with a lace collar under a gold-trimmed black velvet robe, gold and blue enamel frame, maker's mark, bear's head 3me titre, Paris grosse garantie and 3me titre for 1798-1809

PNA 1269
MN 1269


box 2.5 x 7.7 x 4.9 cm., miniature 5.8 x 4 cm.
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Provenance

Princesse de la Moskowa (1820-1904)

In 1872, Eugénie Bonaparte, later Princesse de la Moskowa, was born in Italy as the youngest daughter of Napoléon Charles Bonaparte, 5th Prince of Canino and Princess Maria Cristina Ruspoli. As such, she was the granddaughter of Charles Bonaparte (1803-1857), who had married his cousin Zénaïde  Bonaparte (1801-1854) in 1822 in Brussels. Charles’s father, Lucien Bonaparte, and Zénaïde s father, Joseph Bonaparte, were both brothers of Napoléon I, Emperor of the French, meaning their grandparents were Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Ramolino. Portrait miniatures set into snuff boxes, intended as tokens of family affection  and as a private memory, were often passed down through generations, such as this example with the portrait of Madame Mère de l'Empereur, owned by her great-great-great granddaughter Eugénie Bonaparte. Eugénie had received the title Princesse de la Moskowa in 1898 through marriage with Léon Napoléon Ney, 4th Prince de La Moskowa. This victory title had been created by Napoléon I for the Marshal Ney after the Battle of Borodino, which was fought during the French invasion of Russia on 7 September 1812 and was recorded as the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars.

Literature

Related literature

Malmaison 2006, Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767–1855) portraitiste de l’Europe, Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau, 2006

Catalogue Note

This miniature by Isabey is based on the first of three full-length portraits painted by Baron Gérard of Maria Letitzia Bonaparte, Madame Mère. The portrait, commissioned by Napoléon when he was First Consul, depicted her seated near a sculpture of a mother with children, raised on a base inscribed Fecunditas, an allusion to her thirteen children, eight of whom survived to maturity. This portrait, painted circa 1802, formerly in the collection of Caroline Murat, was sold at Sotheby’s New York, 26 January 2006, lot 58 (see fig. 1). The changes in the later versions, Apart from those of composition - for example, the direction of the sitter’s pose was reversed - reflect Napoléon’s ascendant career: in the second the sculptural group is replaced with a bust of Napoléon as First Consul, and in the third a bust of Napoléon as Emperor. Numerous variants and replicas were made of these portraits, in particular the third version, which was also copied in tapestry by the Gobelins manufactory.

In this miniature Isabey has faithfully replicated the Gérard portrait save in editing the pearl earrings and necklace, a modification fitting for a miniature intended for private contemplation rather than public display. It was also more in keeping with her identity as Madame Mère - as she was generally known - rather than her formal title ‘Son Altesse Impériale, Madame Mère de l’Empereur’, which was conferred on her in 1805. Although showered with luxury by Napoléon, she, unlike most of her children, remained unchanged by it, preferring to live quietly and modestly. Having endured severe financial difficulties after the early death of her husband Carlo Buonaparte (see the previous lot), she was well aware of the fickleness of fortune. Perhaps with some sense of foreboding about the fate of the Empire she commented ‘Pourvu que ça dure!’ (‘Let’s hope it lasts!’). The mounting of this miniature in a simple tortoiseshell snuff box is in keeping with the sitter’s style and also the private taste of her son Napoléon who had two plain tortoiseshell snuff boxes set with miniatures of his mother among the 33 snuff boxes which accompanied him to St Helena.

Another version of the portrait by Isabey, of almost identical size (5.8 x 4.6 cm), set in pearl and gold necklace, is in the collection of the Châteaux de Malmaison de Bois-Préau (MM 2004.10.1, see Malmaison 2006, cat. no. 70).

Treasures

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