Napoleonic museum in Rome, Italy

The Napoleonic Museum of Rome is a historical museum dedicated to the Napoleonic relics, mainly deriving from the collection of Count Giuseppe Primoli, donated to the city of Rome in 1927.

Giuseppe Primoli (1851-1927) was the son of Carlotta Bonaparte and therefore descended from the Bonaparte family: Carlotta Bonaparte (1832-1901) was in fact the daughter of Carlo Luciano Buonaparte, prince of Canino (1803-1857), and of Zénaïde Bonaparte (1801- 1854), among them cousins as children of two of the brothers of Napoleon I, respectively Luciano Bonaparte (1775-1840) and Giuseppe Bonaparte (1768-1844). In 1848 he had married Pietro Primoli, count of Foglia (1820-1883).

His collection included works of art and family memories, and had been conceived more as an account of private family history than as a collection of historical memorabilia. Together with the collection, the donation concerned the ground floor of the family building, which is still the museum.

Subsequently, after the fall of the Empire, almost all of the Bonaparte family asked asylum of Pope Pius VII, and came to settle in Rome: Napoleon’s mother, Letizia Ramolino, in Palazzo Rinuccini, his brothers Luigi and Girolamo in Palazzo Mancini Salviati and Palazzo Nuñez respectively, and his sister Pauline in her villa on Nomentana.

But the true founder of the “Roman branch” of the Bonapartes, from whom Count Primoli was descended, was the emperor’s “rebel” brother Luciano, who, in 1804, in open opposition to Napoleon, moved to Rome.

Count Primoli’s mother, Carlotta Bonaparte, was born from the marriage of one of Luciano’s sons, Carlo Luciano, to his cousin Zenaide, the daughter of Joseph Bonaparte. Carlotta married Count Pietro Primoli in 1848 and, immediately after the proclamation of the Second Empire, she moved, with her family, to the court of Napoleon the IIIrd. Count Giuseppe Primoli was therefore educated in Paris, even after the fall of the Empire, in the literary salones of his Matilde Bonaparte and Giulia Bonaparte, the Marchesa of Roccagiovine.

A cultured man, passionately interested in books, and a talented photographer, Giuseppe Primoli lived between Rome and Paris, and was closely involved with the literary and artistic circles in both cities. He was, therefore, an interesting intellectual figure and collector, who, through important family gifts and knowledgable acquisitions on the antiques markets, was able to offer the city of Rome this elegant example of a museum-house

The Museum
The museum system run by Rome City Council comprises an extremely diverse group of museums and archaeological sites of undoubted artistic and historic value.

In addition to the Musei Capitolini – the world’s oldest public museum – the system also encompasses the Museo dell’Ara Pacis, designed by Richard Meier and home to various important exhibitions. others include Mercati di Traiano, with the Museo dei Fori Imperiali, and the Museo di Roma a Palazzo Braschi.

The system is further enriched by several “hidden” gems – small museums with prized collections such as the Museo Napoleonico, the Museo di Scultura Antica Giovanni Barracco, the Museo Carlo Bilotti, the Museo Pietro Canonica, the Museo delle Mura and others still – all waiting to be discovered.

Numerous events and temporary exhibitions help make the System of Municipal Museums unique amongst other museum networks in Italy, providing a constant stream of initiatives that are always original and guaranteed to appeal to all sections of the public.

The Building
Palazzo Primoli had been built in the 16th century and had been owned by the Gottifredi family until the end of the 18th century, when it passed to the Filonardi family. It was purchased by Count Luigi Primoli, Pietro’s father, between 1820 and 1828. Giuseppe Primoli in 1901 decided a radical rearrangement, which was necessary following the construction of the banks of the Tiber and the Umberto I bridge, to which via Nicola Zanardelli arrived. The project was entrusted to the architect Raffaele Ojetti: with the works continued until 1911 the previous facade was demolished, replaced by a loggia, the building was raised and a new monumental entrance was created on via Zanardelli.

The Palace is home to the Primoli Foundation, always created by Giuseppe Primoli, and the Primoli Library, which houses around 30,000 volumes. It also houses the Mario Praz Museum, a detached section of the National Gallery of Modern Art.

The old facade on the Piazza dell’Orso was demolished and a new area with corner loggias was added to the building, while a new monumental entrance was created on the Via Zanardelli; the height of building was raised and it was given a new facade on Piazza di Ponte Umberto. The works finished in 1911.

The ground floor, which, along with the Napoleonic collection, was donated by Giuseppe Primoli to the Municipality of Rome in 1927, retains the Eighteenth ceilings with their painted beams in many rooms, while the friezes with run along the walls of rooms VIII, IX, X, date from the first decades of the 1800s, when the palazzo was already owned by Primoli. The friezes in rooms III and V date from after the marriage of Pietro Primoli to Carlotta Bonaparte in 1848, as is demonstrated by the “lion rampant” of the Primoli family and the “eagle” of the Bonapartes.

The early Nineteenth century Neapolitan majolica – laid on the floors of rooms III, IV, V, IX, and X – comes from the demolished Palazzo Porcari-Senni in the Via Aracoeli; the entrance to room III, which dates to the end of the 1700s, was recovered from the demolition of the Chapel of the Hospital of Pius VI in the S. Spirito Borgo.

The Palazzo is also the home of the Primoli Foundation, created by Primoli himself, and the Primoli Library, which is made up of more than thirty thousand volumes of literature, history and art.

From the 1st June 1995 the Mario Praz Museum, which is connected to the National Gallery of Modern Art, has been situated on the third floor. It is a museum-house, in which is a myriad collection of furniture, paintings, drawings, terracottas, bronzes, miniatures, and silver work, dating from the end of the Eighteenth Century and the first half of the Nineteenth, which were collected by Mario Praz (1896-1982), an anglophile and art critic.

The prescence of both these institutions in the same building makes it a place of great interest for the study of art, literature and XIXth century history.

The museum collections are divided into three distinct sections, concerning:

The actual Napoleonic period, testified by large canvases and busts of the major artists of the time, who portray numerous exponents of the imperial family in courtly and conventional poses;
The so-called “Roman” period, from the fall of Napoleon I to the rise of Napoleon III;
The period of the second empire, with paintings, sculptures, engravings, furniture, objects, all referable to the era.
The current layout of the museum, the result of recent restoration of the rooms, generally reflects the indications left by Giuseppe Primoli. The rooms retain the eighteenth – century ceilings with painted beams in some rooms, while the friezes that run along the walls of rooms VIII, IX, X date back to the first decades of the nineteenth century, when the palace had already passed into the ownership of the Primoli. The friezes of the III and V rooms, as indicated by the “rampant lion” of the Primoli and the “eagle” by the Bonaparte, are subsequent to the marriage of Pietro Primoli with Carlotta Bonaparte.

Exhibitiom Halls

Rooms 1 and 2
The First Empire

The first two rooms, divided only by a marble balustrade, form a unique area dedicated to the splendour of the First Empire (1804-1814). Here are collected the large canvases which depict numerous members of the imperial families in noble and conventional poses. Next to these official portraits, commissioned by Napoleon after his consecration as emperor, are displayed the private portraits, which, through the waxesof Giambattista Santarelli, enamel miniatures, cameos by Nicolò Morelli, and snuff boxes, give a more intimate portrait of the Bonaparte family’s history.

These elegant objects, in particular the bonbonnières and snuff boxes, were often used by Napoleon as cadeaux for his court companions and dignitaries. The salon decorated in red damask by Jacob, which came from the studio of Napoleon the First Consul on Saint-Cloud, is an interesting example of the austere French style in the pre-Imperial period. It includes a pommier-chair (named for its creator) with asymmetric arms to allow it to be drawn up to the fireplace.

In one of the two wall cases is displayed a group of fine porcelain work; particularly interesting is the ensemble of 24 plates, which comes from the most important French manufacturer of the early 1800s (Nast, Swebach, Schöelcher).

The First Empire consoles in the IInd room, like the Urania pendulum clock, were part of the furnishings of the Hotel Chabrillan, while the two copies of candelabra hung above them are some of them numerous objects which were commissioned in France to provide embellissements for the Palazzo Quirinale in anticipation of Napoleon’s visit to Rome in 1812, which never in fact took place.

The level of refinement that the applied arts reached under the First Empire is exemplified by the two travelling necessaries displayed in the cases: genuine masterpieces by the cabinet-maker Jean-Baptiste Biennais and Maire, in which elegance and comfort are harmoniously integrated.

Joseph Chabord (Chambéry 1786- Paris 1848), Napoleon on the Wagram camp, 1810
Robert Lefèvre (Bayeux 1756 – Paris 1830), The Empress Josephine, 1805 ca.
Daniele Saint, Gold tobacconist with miniatures by Zenaide and Carlotta, 1809-1819
Black and gold agate tobacconist with coins of Caesar, Pompey and Augustus, 1803
Pierre-Philippe Thomire, Pair of five-armed chandeliers with bacchanal and tirso
François Gérard, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi with his daughter Napoleona Elisa
Marc Schoelcher, Plate with still life

Room 3
The Second Empire

In this room, dedicated to the Second Empire (1852-1870), are displayed paintings, sculptures, engravings, furniture, and other objects from the period of French history in which Napoleon III predominated. They exemplify the great ferment of artistic production which took place under the reassuring motto “The Empire is Peace”.

As well as the two official portraits of the imperial couple, created by Franz-Xavier Winterhalter, various prints are displayed which illustrate important moments in the politics of diplomatic and economic events which the Emperor desired. Other works are memorials to the events surrounding the Imperial Prince Napoleon Eugenio, the only son of Napoleon III and Eugenia: the busts of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, the wax statuette of Emmanuel Frémiet which shows him in the uniform of Drummer of the Guards, the last photograph of him, as an official of the English army, prior to his departure for South Africa and the watercolour by Orlando Norio which documents his funeral at Chislehurst, a village not far from Londra.

In the oval case are conserved, as well as several commemorative medallions, a pair of miniature portraits, showing Queen Victoria and Napoleon III, the dagger in gilded bronze and mother of pearl, which was given in 1830 by the Braccini brothers, natives of Spoleto, to Napoleon Luigi, the brother of the future emperor, and a group of bouquet holders, an essential element of feminine apparel for the great court balls. The sofa and the armchairs which furnish the room come from a Parisian residence belonging to Matilde Bonaparte.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Empress Eugenia, ca. 1852
Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Emperor Napoleon III, ca. 1852
Jean Baptiste Carpeaux, Napoleon Eugene with the black dog, 1865

Room 4
The King of Rome

This small room, dedicated to the son of Napoleon and Maria Luisa of Austria, was opened in 1934, following the acquisitions of a collection of relics and autographs connected to Anton Prokesch-Osten, tutor and friend of the young Bonaparte. The room and the objects in it, retain an intimate character, which reflects the short and somewhat hidden existence of Napoleon’s son. At his birth he was given the title King of Rome, a city he never in fact reigned over. He was forced to leave Paris in 1815, grew up at the court of Vienna, and was entrusted to various institutions, while his mother was busy governing the Duchies of Parma and Guastalla. He died when he was only 21, on the 22nd July 1832, under the title of the Duke of Reichstadt.

A group of allegorical drawings by Bartolomeo Pinelli and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, hung on the right wall of the room, celebrate the birth of the King of Rome, while, on the left wall, a large watercolour shows a table centrepiece planned for the marriage of Napoleon and Maria Luisa.

In one of the cases a card game known as Jeu de l’Hombre because of its Spanish origin, is displayed. It is particularly precious because the pieces are of fine Chinese manufacture, made of mother of pearl. The game was given to Napoleon when he was in exile on St Helen’s, by the English nobleman Mountstuart Elphinstone, and it should have been inherited by his son, however his premature death left it in Prokesch’s hands.

Pierre Paul Prud’hon (attr.), The king of Rome, 1811

Room 5
The Roman Republic

In 1796 the French army led by the young general Napoleon Bonaparte, fresh from brilliant victories in Piemont and Lombardy, invaded the Legations of Ravenna, Ferrara and Bologna. Pope Pius VI was compelled immediately to sign the Armistice of Bologna, ratified the next year by the Peace of Tolentino, which obliged him to hand over 100 works of art and 100 manuscript books from the Vatican Library.

On the 28th December 1797, the murder of General Duphot during an anti-French popular uprising gave the Directoire the opportunity to begin a military occupation of Rome. On the 9th February 1798, the French army entered the city in triumph at the Piazza del Popolo; on the 15th the Republic of Rome was declared. The jacobin experience was brief, but involved intense propaganda, which was most garishly expressed in Republican festivals. For the second anniversary of the Republic numerous public ceremonies were organized, which reused and reworked models and themes which has been tried out during the French Revolution. Several prints on display in the Room give an accurate description of the huge and ephemeral stage sets created for these Republican celebrations.

Joseph-Charles Marin – Jean Jérôme Baugean, Departure of the third convoy of Italian statues and monuments of art for France, 1797
Jean Duplessi-Bertaux and Robert Delaunay, Proclamation of the Roman Republic on Capitol Square, 1798

Room 6
Pauline Bonaparte

This room, dedicated to Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, concentrates particularly on her stay in Rome from 1816 to 1825 in the Villa Paolina. The villa, is located between between the Aurelian Walls, Via Piave and Via XX Settembre, and from 1950 the French Embassy to the Holy See was housed there. Pauline bought it in 1816, delighted by its situation and the elegance of its design. The watercolours on display show its elegance, which extended to the interior, which was decorated by Pauline herself in a purely French taste.

Many of the objects in the room come from the Villa Paolina: the toilet set made by the goldsmith Martin-Guillaume Biennais, the portable mirror on which can be seen the substitution of Pauline’s monogram with that of her niece Carlotta (to whom the villa was left), the note book of expenses related to the running of the house. The dormouse in mahogany, is similar to the sofa on which Pauline posed for the famous Canova statue, which showed her dressed as Venus Vincitrice (Rome, Borghese Gallery). The plaster cast of the princess’ breast and the model of her head come from Canova’s masterpiece.

Jodocus Sebastiaen van den Abeele A sitting room in Villa Paolina in Rome with Princess Zenaide, her children and sister Charlotte
Giovanni Riveruzzi (active in Rome between the second and third decade of the 19th century), Villa Paolina on the side of Porta Pia, 1828 ca.
François Joseph Kinson (1771-1839), Paolina Bonaparte, 1808

Room 7
The Kingdom of Naples

In these rooms are displayed objects related to Joseph and Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and sister, who held to the throne of the Kingdom of Naples one after the other. Napoleon gave the throne initially to his older brother, the submissive Joseph, who reigned there from 1806 to 1808. During this period Jean-Baptiste Wicar, then the Director of the Academy of Fine Arts of the Neapolitan cities, created portraits of Joseph, his wife Giulia Clary and their two children Zenaide and Carlotta.

After Joseph became king of Spain, the throne of Naples passed to Caroline Bonaparte and her husband Gioacchino Murat. Their government was characterized by a wish to distance themselves from the imperial directives and to acquire political autonomy. In 1815, with the fall of the Empire and the restoration of the Boubons, Murat was killed while he was trying to reconquer his territories. Caroline, however, fled to Trieste; it is from this period that the volumes, conserved in the elegant bookcase and personalized by the “La comtesse de Lipona” stamp, a title she took on after the end of the Napoleonic era.

Several of Caroline’s jewels are displayed in the case (others are in the wall cases in Room I). The “sentimental” pieces include the pin with the miniature of Jean-Baptiste Augustin surrounded by a series of hard stones, whose initials form the word souvenir.

Giuseppe Cammarano (1766 – 1850), Queen Carolina, 1813
Demi-parure (necklace, earrings and brooch) with scenes from popular life
Francesco De Caro, Vase with portrait of Gioacchino Murat, 1809-1812

Room 8

Napoleon Bonaparte represented throughout his life, in the period of the rise, the peak of fame and power, but also in the years of decline and after death a central figure in the French and European collective imagination. The room has a didactic approach and wants to reconstruct its history and legend “through images”.

“It is not the accuracy of the lines, a pea on the nose, which make the resemblance. It is the character of phisionomy, here is the anime, which must be painted”. So Napoleon replied to the artist Jacques-Louis David, according to the biographer Étienne-Jean Delécluze, when he asked him to pose for the famous portrait “Napoleon at the San Bernardo Pass” (of which an etching engraving is preserved in this room). Napoleon never posed for anyone else. Nonetheless, its image is universally known. In the room, a selection of works representative of the evolution of Napoleon’s iconography from his youth to the fall of the Empire.

The large chandelier present, purchased on the antiques market, is probably of Russian manufacture and refers to the years of the First Empire.

Napoleon hands over the Code of Laws to the Goddess Rome
Antonio Giberti and Giuseppe Longhi (from Jacques-Louis David)
Allegorical scene with the fall of Napoleon

Room 9
Zenaide and Carlotta

This room is decorated with frescos, brought to light and restored in recent times, which bear witness to the neo-gothic taste which was particularly in vogue around 1830-40. These years were central to the life events of Zenaide and Carlotta, daughters of Joseph Bonaparte, to whom the room is dedicated.

Neo-gothic motifs can be seen in many of the works on display, such as the portraits of the two sisters created by Carlotta herself. Carlotta dedicated herself with a passion to painting, and sometimes got good results, particularly when working with watercolour: her portrait of her grandmother Letizia, done in 1835, is an example of this

Her husband Napoleon Luigi was also much attached to painting: various of his works are displayed. Both Napoleon Luigi and Carlotta, whose lives were thoroughly involved in the disquiet, romantic atmosphere, died young: he in 1831, following an illness contracted whle taking part in exercises with the secret society of the Carbonari, and she in 1839, while giving birth to a son, conceived during a secret and ill-fated love affair.

Jacques-Louis David, Zenaide and Charlotte Bonaparte, 1821
Léopold Robert, Carlotta Bonaparte, ca. 1831
Carlotta Bonaparte, Self-portrait, 1834

Room 10
Luciano Bonaparte

During the years of the Directoire and the Consulate, Luciano Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, had taken on important political roles, first as President of the Council of the Five hundred, then as Minister of the Interior and French Ambassador to Madrid. He had a decisive role in the coup d’etat on the “18 Brumaio” (8th November 1799), with which Napoleon was proclaimed First Consul.

The relationship between the two brothers, which had already been compromised for political reasons – Luciano, who was a convinced Republican, did not approve of Napoleon’s move to authoritarianism – deteriorated definitively following Luciano’s marriage, after the death of his first wife Christine Boyer, to Alexandrine de Bleschamp.

The couple settles in Rome in 1804, as guests of their uncle, Cardinal Fesch; Luciano subsequently acquired Palazzo Nuñez in the Via Bocca di Leone and the “La Ruffinella” villa in Frascati. A drawing by Charles de Chatillon showing Luciano on the terrace of the Villa Mondragone and reading intently, surrounded by his numerous family and his entourage of writers and artists. However his preferred residence, from 1806 onwards, was the castle of Musignano in Canino, near to Viterbo. It was there that, together with his wife, he dedicated himself to excavations and the study of archaeology, which led him to publish, in 1829, his Catalogue of chosen Etruscan antiquities found in the excavations of Prince Canino.

François Xavier Fabre, Luciano Bonaparte, 1808
François Xavier Fabre, Alexandrine de Bleschamp, 1808

Room 11
Carlo Luciano and Zenaide Bonaparte

This room is dominated by the huge portrait of Carlotta Bonaparte, the elder daughter of Luciano, created by Jean-Baptiste Wicar. “Lolotte” is dressed as a farm worker and shown against a background of Canino’s estates. The painting comes from the collection of one of the daughters of Placido Gabrielli, who in turn had married in 1856 at the Tuileries, a Bonaparte, Augusta, the daughter of Carlo Luciano and Zenaide.

Effectively the room is dedicated to the Roman branch of the Bonaparte family, which derived primarily from the marriages of the children of this last couple to various members of the Roman (del Gallo di Roccagiovine, Primoli, Campello, Gabrielli).

On the small bookshelves, decorated with the crests of a cardinal, which belonged to one of Carlo Luciano and Zenaide’s children, Cardinal Luigi Luciano, are conserved various volumes from Napoleon’s library on St Helena. Many works from the cardinal’s collection, of which a portrait made by Guglielmo de Sanctis is displayed, were acquired by Count Giuseppe Primoli and are today conserved in this Museum.

In the middle of the room stands Zenaide’s work table, a truly multi-functional piece of furniture: inside, it is divided into multiple compartments, which hold tools for painting, drawing, embroidery and various society games.

Jean Baptiste Wicar, Carlotta Bonaparte in peasant dress of Canino, ca. 1815
Charles de Chatillon, Zenaide and Carlo Luciano Bonaparte, 1823

Room 12
Giuseppe Primoli and Matilde Bonaparte

This room is dedicated to the “landlord”, Giuseppe Primoli, to whom the Napoleonic Museum in Rome owes its existence. In the drawing by Jean-Alexandre Coraboeuf he is shown in the role of a cultured man, an elegant collector and a passionate bibliophile. Giuseppe promoted close cultural exchange between France and Italy, making use of the web of relationships he had woven in his youth in the Paris of the Second Empire.

He in part owed this lively intellectual attitude to Matilde Bonaparte Demidoff who was known at that period in Paris as “Notre Dame des Arts”, since she had opened her salotto-atelier in the Rue des Courcelles to the best writers and artists of the time: her habitual guests included, amongst others, Flaubert, Dumas, the Goncourt brothers, Maupassant, and Ernest Hébert. One of the walls is therefore devoted to Giuseppe’s friends: among the various portraits can be found three sketches of Hébert, for a long time director of the Villa Medici, and several watercolours of Matilde herself.

The armchairs and the divan come from the furniture of Augusta Bonaparte’s green boudoir in Palazzo Gabrielli (today Palazzo Taverna).

Jean Alexandre Coraboeuf, Giuseppe Primoli, 1920 ca.

The library of the Napoleonic Museum has about 3000 titles, between the ancient and the modern background and mainly collects volumes of historical and historical-artistic subjects concerning the period between the First and Second Empire.