Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Unusual Artifacts: The François Joseph Charles Bonaparte Brooch, 1800-1900

The King of Rome
Emperor Napoleon II
Portrait Miniature in Enamel
The Victoria & Albert Museum

François Joseph Charles Bonaparte was the son of Napoleon I and his second wife, the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria. He was named the “King of Rome” by his father at the moment of his birth in 1811—how convenient…most babies get a rattle.

This, of course, was a rather complicated family into which to be born. Young François Joseph was briefly named Emperor Napoleon II—but in name only—at the time of Napoleon I’s first abdication upon the downfall of the French empire in 1814-15.

Here, we see a portrait miniature of François Joseph Charles Bonaparte, rendered in enamel—a popular and expensive practice which developed out of the decorative work of goldsmiths and watchmakers in the French cities of Blois, Châteaudun and Paris.

Now part of the collection of Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde, housed in the V&A, this oval gold brooch (dating between 1800 and 1900), with two crowns, is set with the aforementioned miniature portrait of the King of Rome as a baby. He is wearing a white frock with the red sash and cross of the Imperial French Order of the Legion of Honor. Unlike most babies, he holds an orb and scepter. Again, better than a rattle. The infant King reclines on a green cushion with red drapery in the background. 

This miniature, enameled by an unknown hand, is based on a painting by Baron Françios Gérard which is now in the Musée National du Château de Fontainebleau. 

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