JOSÉPHINE, EMPRESS OF THE FRENCH
Mme de Basily-Callimaki, J.-B. Isabey sa vie- son temps, Paris, 1909;
Napoléon Bonaparte, Correspondance Générale, V, Boulogne, Trafalgar, Austerlitz, 1805, Paris, 2008, letter 11144
Isabey’s role in defining the imperial family’s image extended to the clothes they wore and is evident in this miniature. For the coronation in 1804 he was required to design costumes that bore no relationship with the immediate Bourbon past and so he looked back to the Renaissance as a source for inspiration. The lace collar and puffed sleeves of the velvet dress worn by the empress in this miniature derive from her coronation robes. Indeed, it is quite possible that Louis Hippolyte Leroy, the creator of the coronation gown and the empress’s favourite marchand de modes, was also responsible for this dress. Given the nature of the occasion represented it is fitting that the only jewellery worn by the empress is a gold chain hung with a miniature of Napoléon. This particular portrait, showing the emperor in the uniform of a colonel of the Foot Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, was created by Isabey (for a version of this miniature see Basily-Callimaki, p. 99).
By combining the gothic setting with a reimagined Renaissance dress, Isabey aligned himself with a group of contemporary artists who were painting romanticised historical subjects, le genre chevaleresque. Empress Joséphine was an early admirer of these ‘Troubadour’ paintings: in 1805 she acquired Valentine de Milan, exhibited by Fleury François Richard at the Salon of 1802, which depicted the velvet-robed subject in a gothic interior (The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg).
Given the allure of this Isabey portrait it is not surprising that in the nineteenth century it became a popular subject for engravers: Madame de Basily-Kallimaki lists no less than five versions (ibid., cat. nos. 52–56), see Fig. 1.
For information about the gold box maker Pierre André Montauban, see footnote to lot 34.
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