Bertolotto, C., et. al., Giuseppe Maria Bonzanigo: intaglio minuto e grande decorazione, (exh. cat.) Pinacoteca civica, Asti, 1989;
Ferraris, G., Giuseppe Bonzanigo e la scultura decorativa in legno a Torino nel periodo neoclassico(1770-1830), Turin, 1991;
Arnaldi di Balme, C., & Merlotti, A., Trofeo Militare di Giuseppe Maria Bonzanigo, Torino, 2011;
Olivier Ihl, “Le premier portrait de Buonaparte. Sur l’histoire d’un «faux»” in Circé. Histoires, Cultures et Sociétés, 2015 (2), Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, nr. 7.
His acute commercial sense meant that he was able to adapt to the new regime that the French occupation brought to Piedmont in 1798, his masterpiece – the Trofeo Militare – being the upmost example. Started in 1793, Bonzanigo worked on it for more than 20 years and its numerous changes reflected the changing political scenery. First created as a future celebration of the international coalition against the French, of which the Savoy states were part, its nature changed with the French occupation and by 1802, the region’s governor general Jean Baptiste Jourdan tried to sell it to the government in Paris. Once Vittorio Emanuele I was back in Piedmont in 1814, Bonzanigo reworked the trophy to reflect the new regime, praising the return to the old order. This ability to adapt was already noted in 1816 when Albin Louis Milin commented laconically that “mais Bonzanigo sait tout arranger” (Voyage en Savoie, en Piémont a Nice et a Génes, by A.L.Milin, I, Paris, 1816).
The present lot must therefore be an early example of the artist embracing the new order, working under the patronage of one of the two governors of Piedmont, Jourdan or Jacques-François de Menou, Baron of Boussay. Besides portraying Bonaparte in the Trofeo Militare, Bonzanigo received a commission from the Empress Josephine on 30th July 1806 for twelve small portraits in wood. A month later he exhibited a portrait of Napoléon and the Empress in wood and ivory in an exhibition (Objets d’arts manufactures et métiers étalés dans le sallons d’exposition honorés de l’auguste presence de LL.MM.II. et RR. Napoleon et Josephine…, Turin, le 4 Floreal an 13, pp.9-11 apud Bertolotto, p.46)) on the occasion of the Imperial visit to the city. In 1811, a fine portrait of the Empress Maria Luisa was sent to the Emperor in Paris (Paris, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, , inv.109), mentioned by Molinier: “Dans l’inventaire du Musée royal de 1816, la description de ce monument est accompagnée de la mention suivante: ‘Venant de Turin. Ces sculptures envoyées par M. Bocenigo, de Turin, ont eté offertes à Bonaparte et adressées au Musée par le Ministre de l’Intérieur, le 25 Avril 1811’ (Molinier, Musée National du Louvre, Catalogue des ivoires, Paris, 1896, pp.361-2). Another notable equestrian portrait in relief of Bonaparte, as First Consul, was sold in 1935 (Brouwet collection) and probably the one recently with a Parisian dealer.
However, the present portrait predates all of these and is a rare example of an early portrait of the French general. It is based on a drawing by Giuseppe Longhi, whom Bonaparte met in person in Italy in 1796, a drawing which is believed to have been made into a print and circulated between his generals (Ihl, op.cit) (fig.1). Images such as this drawing, where the future Emperor is presented in a slightly informal way, soon ceased to exist. Nevertheless, Bonaparte, always highly conscious of his own image as a propaganda tool, approved of Longhi’s work, as he commissioned a print after a painting of Gros in 1798 (Portrait of General Napoleon Bonaparte at the battle of Arcole - this print by Longhi was commissioned by Bonaparte himself at the cost of 250 louis and advertised in 'Le Moniteur', 3 February 1799). One other example by Bonzanigo of the same profile portrait of Napoléon is known, but on a much smaller scale and inset in a snuff box (see Bertolotto, ill. 57.15, Private Collection, 6.2cm).
In the current portrait, the young general is presented within a foliated medallion surmounted by a slightly illegible cypher 'GPB' or 'GBP', its meaning not clear. It could possibly refer to one of Bonzanigo's patrons in the Napoleonic administration. The minute carving of the frame includes military trophies with multiple references to the French Republic and to Napoléon’s military attributes. Two side shields represent Hercules fighting the lion and the figure of Plenty, referring to the wealth that the new law would bring to Europe.
The current lot was formerly part of the Liechtenstein Princely Collection, one of the most extraordinary private collections in the world. In the words of former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello, this historical ensemble “represents the paradigm of a great European princely collection but also has the added distinction of being the collection of the only surviving monarchy of the Holy Roman Empire and of a Princely house that traces its distinguished lineage back to the twelfth century” (Liechtenstein Princely Collections, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995, foreword to exh. cat.). The survival of the principality, and of the collection itself, is sort of miraculous in the context of the tumultuous European history and the present lot reminds us of the pivotal role of one of the many important figures that this House has produced during its long history: Prince Johann I Joseph (1760-1836) (fig.2).
Prince of Liechtenstein between 1805 and 1806 and again from 1814 until 1836, he entered the Austrian army at the age of 22, quickly rising in the ranks and distinguishing himself in battle a number of times during the French Revolutionary Wars. He then had a prominent role in the Napoleonic Wars, leading the 4,600 men of the cavalry force at the Battle of Austerlitz. Despite the brave efforts of his troops, the battle was disastrous for the Austro-Russian army and the Prince had to be in charge of the negotiations with Emperor Napoléon I that led to the Peace of Pressburg. He then fought in a number of battles during the War of the Fifth Coalition and after the Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen resigned as commander of the Austrian army, Liechtenstein assumed this role and was promoted to Feldmarschall. After the final defeat of the Austrian army, he had the hard task of negotiating and signing the Treaty of Schönbrunn, which, due to its unfavourable terms for the Holy Empire, led to great criticism against the Prince. It is nevertheless fascinating to find a portrait of Bonaparte as a young general in the family collection of his valiant opponent and one wonders whether it was in fact part of his own personal possessions.
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