The oil on canvas was created by François Gérard on the direct commission of Napoleon Bonaparte, who commissioned the painter with a decree to portray the official full-size family portraits to adorn the walls of the Malmaison, externalizing the glory and memory of the 'Emperor at its apogee.
It is the portrait of the eldest of Napoleon's sisters, Elisa, with her daughter (significantly called Napoleona Elisa).
Elisa married the Corsican nobleman Felice Baciocchi; she was princess of Lucca and Piombino and grand duchess of Tuscany. Brilliant, cultured and strong-willed woman, she gave life in Tuscany to a lively international court frequented by intellectuals and prestigious artists.
The poses for the painting were taken in 1810 in Paris, on the occasion of the journey that Elisa made with her family for her brother's second wedding (with Maria Luisa of Austria).
At the time the protagonist of the painting was expecting a son. Another version, signed and dated 1811, is kept at the castle of Prangins, in Switzerland, while a small d'après of the painting is located in Versailles.
The Boboli gardens in Florence were chosen as the ideal setting, Palazzo Pitti was Elisa’s grand-ducal residence.
On the left stand out classical architectural fragments and a statue of Neptune with a sea creature, probably a dolphin.
Among the central figures and classical architecture, a lush laurel plant stands out.
In the background, a sky with warm colors can be glimpsed, punctuated by the soaring peaks of some cypresses, probably at sunset.
On the ground at Elisa and her daughter’s feet, there is a yellow hat with a large visor adorned with a white ribbon, and freshly picked flowers inside: white irises, yellow daffodils ...
The princess has her daughter Napoleona Elisa in front of her
on whose shoulder she affectionately lays her right hand
while with her left she caresses a small fawn, nestled on the seat, which the girl holds on a leash.
Elisa wears a precious empire-style dress, in red velvet with gold embroidery, with short sleeves that leave the white arms uncovered. The robe is embellished with a large brooch placed in the center of the high waist.
A necklace of round white pearls and droplets hanging adorns the beautiful luminous neck of the woman; the invoice recalls certain ancient Etruscan goldsmiths.
Wear pearl, drop, drop earrings.
On his left arm he carries a precious bracelet, also made of pearls, while on the index finger of his left hand he has a fine gold ring with opal.
The pinkish and slightly smiling face shows an evident mole with a perfect circular shape on the left cheek. The effect is seductive, although Elisa was not very inclined to vanity and feminine habits.
The face is framed by a classic hairstyle with curls partly covered by a light dentelle, i.e. a blond of white and gold lace.
The noblewoman wears beautiful white cloth slippers, similar to those of her daughter, obviously placing her feet not directly on the ground, but on an ocher-colored cushion similar to that of the seat.
Her daughter Napoleona Elisa has reddish brown hair, short, slightly wavy, parted in the middle, and beautiful big eyes of the same warm color. The cheeks are delicately pinkish. It has small earrings with gold setting and red stone, garnet or ruby.
She wears a white empire-style satin dress with beautiful translucent reflections, with balloon sleeves and high waist.
The dress has delicate decorations in light silk chérusque type around the neckline, taken on the edge of the long skirt. The girl is wearing delicate shoes of the same fabric and color of the dress.
She holds on a leash, made of white cloth, a small, shy fawn with an orange fur, with white specks rendered with fast, but effective yellowish-white brush strokes.
Elisa Bonaparte with her daughter Napoleona Baciocchi (1810/1810) by François GérardMuseo Napoleonico
Laura Panarese, curator
Museo Napoleonico, Rome