NAPOLÉON I, EMPEROR OF THE FRENCH
Prince Victor Napoléon (1862-1926);
Prince Louis Napoléon (1914-1997)
G.A. Guattani, Memorie enciclopediche romane, Rome, 1807, ii, pp.8/10;
R. Righetti, Incisori di gemme e cammei a Roma, Rome, 1954, pp. 50/1;
G.C. Bulgari, Argentieri, gemmari e orafi d’Italia, Roma, ii, Rome, 1959, p. 178;
Anna Maria Massinelli, Hardstones,- The Gilbert Collection, London, 2000, 152-155;
Lucia Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, 'Nicola Morelli, Incisore in Pietre Dure, Accademico di Merito di S. Luca, Virtuoso del Pantheon', Bollettino dei Musei Comunali di Roma, 1992, vol.VI;
Annamaria Giusti in exhibition catalogue, Arte e manufattura di Corte a Firenze, Florence, 2006(a);
Annamaria Giusti, Pietre Dure and the Art of Florentine Inlay, London, 2006(b),
Lucia Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, ‘Hardstone Gem Engraving in Rome: the great flowering of the 18th and 19th centuries’, exhibition catalogue, The Art of Gem Engraving, ed. Diana Scarisbrick, Japan, 2008, pp.319-322;
Alvar Gonzalez-Palacios, 'Florentine Snuffboxes' in Murdoch & Zech, Going for Gold, Brighton, 2014, pp. 163-183
In 1801, Ludovico of Bourbon-Parma arrived in Florence, named by Napoléon as King of Etruria. On his death in 1803 his wife Maria Luisa, daughter of Charles IV of Spain, took over as regent. She had inherited the family passion for the arts and was particularly interested in the Galleria dei Lavori and its pietra dura productions. Indeed in 1806 she issued an edict that the Galleria should no longer undertake private commissions but instead should work solely for the crown.
Although the actual work was never completed, Maria Luisa had commissioned Carlo Carlieri in 1807 to design a table for presentation to Napoléon. Oblong with rounded ends it would be of lapis lazuli inlaid with military trophies alternationg with laurel wreaths, perhaps enclosing a central initial N (Giusti, Arte e Manufattura di corte, 2006a, no. 173). When Napoléon’s sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi took over in 1809 as Grand Duchess of Tuscany, she continued with the project but it fell into abeyance with Napoleon’s defeat in 1814.
During Maria Luisa’s reign, she had commissioned a number of small pietra dura objects for herself including snuff boxes and etuis, for some of which Carlo Carlieri’s designs survive (Giusti, 2006a, no. 165a). The snuff boxes are circular, of lapis lazuli inlaid with gold fillets and strings of pearls surrounding either a central monogram or a neo-classical urn; the mounts are of simple hatched gold. Further designs of the period show very similar circular lapis boxes, the borders and sides inlaid with a pleated ribbon design (for the design and illustration of a box, now in the Gilbert Collection, with a central urn holding flowers, see Giusti, 2006b, p. 214, ills. 171 and 172), not unlike the slanted design of stripes on the present example.
Although no published designs from the Galleria show boxes set with cameos, a pietra dura etui in the British Royal Collections is very similar in design to a watercolour drawing in Florence by Carlo Carlieri of an etui for Maria Luisa, to be inlaid with her monogram (Giusti, 2006a, no. 165b; Royal Collections RCIN 4538). The Royal Collections etui, however, is set on each side with large malachite cameos of Roman warriors. A slightly later gold-mounted Florentine malachite and pietra dura souvenir, is applied with an onyx cameo of Maria Luisa's successor, Elisa Bonaparte, Grand Duchess of Tusacany, signed by Nicola Morelli (Christie's, 28 May 2002, lot 223).
Nicola Morelli (1771-1838) was trained as a cameo carver in Rome, it is thought, by the master incisore in pietre dure, Angelo Amastini, whose daughter he subsequently married. In 1799 he is recorded himself as teaching the gem-carver Benedetto Pistrucci. In 1810 he was received as a gem engraver by the Accademia di S. Luca and in 1812, with Girometti and Cerbara, he was admitted to the Academy's order of merit, an honour never previously accorded to artists other than painters or sculptors. A portrait of Morelli by his son Carlo is still held in the Academy’s collections.
Morelli preferred to work in relief rather than carving in intaglio but he did not limit himself to portraits alone. He also executed mythological and other subjects such as a large onyx cameo of St George slaying the Dragon (Treasures from the Rothschild Collection, Sotheby's London, 12 December 2003, lot 95).
Among his more important clients Morelli numbered the Vatican and Franz I of Austria, but he is most celebrated for his work for the Bonaparte family. A cameo of the laurel-crowned Napoleon I, carved by Morelli, from the Castellani collection, now in the Museo di Villa Giulia, Rome (Stefanelli, 1992, pp. 63-76, fig. 2); a further diamond-set example was sold, Sotheby's London, 28 March 1996, lot 300. Cardinal Fesch is also recorded as commissioning portraits of ten of the Bonaparte family members from Morelli, to be set into a diadem as a gift for his sister, Letizia Bonaparte, Napoléon's mother.
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