Luciano Bonaparte in Villa Rufinella (1808/1808) by François-Xavier FabreMuseo Napoleonico
Between April and November 1808 Luciano Bonaparte and his wife Alexandrine de Bleschamp sojourn in Florence. In the Tuscan city, the couple visits the painter François-Xavier Fabre's studio and poses for him. At least six half-bust or half-length portraits of Luciano and three of Alexandrine are known today, taken from those sittings.
Although executed in Florence, by the will of the client, the composition was set in the villa of the “Rufinella” (or “Tuscolana”) near Frascati, purchased by Luciano in 1804. Luciano remained the owner until 1820, when he sold it for economic reasons. In his Memoirs, his son Pierre describes the villa as a country residence "without pomp, but comfortable".
For the renovation and embellishment of the garden, Luciano collaborated with the architect Raffele Stern (1774-1820). He has avenues built there and arranges the archaeological finds, statues and architectural fragments found in the excavation campaigns he promoted in nearby Tusculum.
He also erects an ideal Mount Parnassus at the top of which he places a copy of the famous ancient statue of the Apollo of the Belvedere and the busts of great classical authors such as Homer, Virgil and Torquato Tasso, made by the Roman sculptor Vincenzo Pacetti (1746-1820).
In this idyllic setting, Luciano reserves for himself in the southern part of the park a rustic building in the shape of a hut, which he uses as a private study.
The extra-urban setting and the attributes of the painting intend to present Luciano as a man of culture, dedicated to the scholar's otium in his country residence. The detail of the composition that most qualifies Luciano as a lover of letters is the book, a copy of the Gerusalemme Liberata by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595).
Napoleon's younger brother is portrayed standing outdoors, half-length, with his arms folded.
He is dressed in elegant civilian clothes. The jacket is in dark cloth and with golden buttons. His shirt and under-jacket are white as well as the scarf tied around the neck, an item of clothing that Luciano loved very much and that recurs frequently in his portraiture.
A low wall separates it from a park, with holm oaks, cypresses and pines. In the background a few mountains are visible. The warm and soft light that frames the crest of the mountains sets the scene at sunset.
On the balustrade, on the left, the painting is signed and dated: "F. X. Fabre ex vero faciebat Florentiae 1808".
His gaze, serene and inspired, is directed towards a point not visible to the viewer. Two thick sideburns frame his face.
Text by Marco Pupillo