The empress Joséphine (1805/1805) by Robert LefèvreMuseo Napoleonico
The painting is an autographed replica of the portrait of Empress Joséphine made by Robert Lefèvre in 1805 and kept in the Rathaus in Aachen, from which the artwork of the Napoleonic Museum differs for the absence of the imperial crown on the red velvet cushion and for the generic definition of the landscape background.
Born in Martinique in 1763, Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de La Pagerie came to Paris in 1779 to marry Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais, by whom she had two children. Widowed, in 1796 she married General Napoleon Bonaparte, who also crowned her empress of the French in 1804.
Lefèvre depicts Joséphine standing, with a three-quarter profile, full-length and life-size, in an interior characterized by a few Empire-style furnishings, among which a refined vase full of luxuriant flowers stands out.
Crafted in refined, shiny and bright white silk taffeta, the dress is embroidered in gold with phytomorphic motifs with ears of wheat, bunches of grapes and small leafy branches, symbols of triumph and prosperity. Precious stones adorn the belt and sleeves.
From under the hem of the dress, covered with a rich gold fringed border, peeps out the tip of an elegant shoe made with the same fabric.
The waist of the dress is marked just below the bust and the neckline is low and wide. The sleeves balloon up to the height of the shoulders, and then come down tight to cover the length of Joséphine's thin arms and part of the back of the hands.
The empress's clothing is completed by a sumptuous ceremonial cloak in red velvet lined with ermine, with a train so large that it cannot be contained in the space of the painting. On the cloak the monogram of Napoleon and the imperial bees are embroidered in gold.
The expression on the face and the gestures of the empress's hands allude to the inner sphere and the private life of the woman.
Below the thick brown eyebrows, Joséphine's large dark eyes address the observer with a pensive gaze, veiled with melancholy, an eloquent testimony of a restless state of mind. The coral-coloured tiny mouth is characterized by a barely hinted smile.
The empress's right hand touches a page of the herbal open on the table next to her. A specimen of a species is already applied on the page, while another sprig of flowers and leaves is waiting to be classified and included in the volume. It is a clear reference to the botanical interests of Joséphine, who had created a rose garden in the castle of Malmaison.
Not surprisingly, in the elegant vase on the table, among the flowers on display, a rose stands out for its bright colours and luxuriant appearance, a passion of the empress who, before meeting Napoleon, bore the name of the splendid flower.
Text by Elena Camilli Giammei