Saturday, 31 August 2013

Nicolas-Henri Jardin, Royal Building Master

Nicolas-Henri Jardin (St Germain des Noyers, Seine-et-Marne, France, 22nd March 1720 – St Germain des Noyers, Seine-et-Marne, France, 31st August 1799)

Portrait of Nicolas-Henri Jardin by Peder Als, 1764
Nicolas-Henri Jardin by Peder Als, 1764

Much as I adore my tottering abode on Henrietta Street, there's no denying that it can be a little bit higgledy piggledy. Our subject today is a man who never went near tottering and to whom higgledy piggledy would have been blasphemy; in fact, he was one of the giants of neoclassical architecture and like so many of our recent guests, he hailed from France.

Nicolas-Henri Jardin was barely into double figures when he took up a serious interest in architecture and by the age of 18 was enrolled at the Académie Francaise. A diligent and exemplary student, Jardin became a star student and in 1744 designed a cathedral chancel that won him the Prix de Rome for architecture. With the money he received from the prize he followed so many other artists and creatives to Italy and a place at the prestigious Académie Francaise in Rome, where he would remain until 1748. Here he befriended sculptor Jacques François Joseph Saly and the two would be lifelong friends, with Saly eventually providing Jardin with his greatest opportunities.

Photograph of Marienlyst Castle, Helsingør
Marienlyst Castle, Helsingør

Their studies and roaming concluded, Saly travelled to Denmark to work at the court of King Frederik V whilst Jardin returned to Paris where he would take up the position of resident architect with Michel Tannevot in 1753. In fact, Jardin only remained in Tannevot's employ for a year as the winds of change were blowing through the Danish court. With something of an overhaul of personnel taking place, there was a  need for an innovative, talented architect to complete Frederikskirken, a project begun by Nicolai Eigtved five years earlier, before the architect fell from favour with Frederik.

Saly suggested that his travelling companion from Italy might fit the bill and by the end of 1754, Jardin was in Copenhagen with his apprentice brother, Louis Henri. With a year they were members of Royal Danish Academy of Art, lecturing on architecture under the Director, who just happened to be Jardin's old friend, Saly.

Photograph of the Yellow Palace, Copenhagen
The Yellow Palace, Copenhagen

When Jardin presented the plans for the church to the Royal Building Commission, they were horrified at the enormous expense of the project; not to be deterred, he made minor amendments and resubmitted his work. Once again the Commission balked at the cost yet this time Jardin had already secured the agreement of the King, who declared that work would begin immediately. Due to the complexity of the plans the building process was painfully slow and funds were not always quick to materialise yet Jardin maintained his position of favour at court, taking the role of Royal Building Master in 1760.

Throughout his career, Jardin received many prestigious decorations and plaudits but the stability that he enjoyed as a courtier of Frederik was threatened by the death of the old king and the succession of his unstable son, Christian VII. In 1770 it was projected that the church would not be fully completed for almost eighty years and Christian's advisor, Johann Friedrich Struensee, advised that building should stop for a time in order for the country to divert some of the money that was being ploughed into the project. Jardin was paid off and the unfinished church was left to the elements, falling into ruin before construction finally resumed in 1874.

Photograph of Bernstorff Palace, Copenhagen
Bernstorff Palace, Copenhagen

With Struensee's disgrace and arrest in 1771, Christian became distrustful of all who were of foreign birth and Jardin took this as his cue to depart Denmark, with Saly leaving his own position just three months later. Jardin exchanged one palace for another, joining the court of Louis XV and continuing in his good fortune until the storm of revolution blew into Paris. Once again the shrewd architect chose his moment to leave the stage and retired to the town where he had been born, seeing out his final years in prosperity.

Photograph of Frederik's Church, Copenhagen
Frederik's Church, Copenhagen
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Friday, 30 August 2013

Mary Shelley: A Tale of More Than Monsters

Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; London, England, 30th August 1797 – London, England, 1st February 1851) 

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell, 1840
Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell, 1840

A few weeks ago I put quill to paper for a very popular post on Percy Bysshe Shelley and his short, tragic life. Since I was a mere slip of a thing I have nursed a fascination for the remarkable woman who, among many other things, was Shelley's wife and so, on the anniversary of her birth, it seems only right to spend some time in the company of Mary Shelley.

Born to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, Mary lost her mother to puerperal fever less than ten days after her birth. She was brought up and educated by Godwin with Wollstonecraft's other daughter, Fanny Imlay; the girls were raised to honour their mother's memory, steeped in her work and philosophy. However, Mary's loving childhood was to be shattered by the arrival of Godwin's second wife, Mary Jane Clairmont, whom the little girl would come to loathe. She devoted herself to learning, writing stories that have since been lost and composing comical asides for the amusement of her father.

Mary met the man who would become her husband in 1814 when Shelley was visiting Godwin; with the older man deeply in debt the poet was providing him with financial assistance to stave off his many creditors. There was a definite spark between Mary and Percy and the young couple began to enjoy secret liaisons. Percy was five years Mary's senior and she was utterly besotted with him but when her beau refused to pay off all of Godwin's debts, it became apparent that her father would never give the romance his blessing. With Percy estranged from his heavily pregnant wife, the couple fled for France with Mary's French-speaking stepsister, Claire Clairmont, to complete the party. Having developed a strong attachment to Shelley, Fanny was devastated to be left behind in England. 

Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, 1797

The trio exhausted their limited finances and returned to England where they found Godwin apoplectic at their behaviour, flatly refusing to provide assistance to his pregnant daughter and her companion. Instead, the couple and Claire moved into lodgings in London. Born in early 1815, Mary's daughter did not survive more than a month and this loss plunged her into a deep depression from which she would not emerge until the birth of her second child, William, in January 1816. 

Later that year the family travelled to Geneva to spend the summer with Lord Byron and Dr John Polidori in the Villa Diodati. Their days were spent in pastoral pursuits and it was during this trip that Mary wrote a book that has passed into literary legend. When Byron suggested that the guests each write a supernatural story Mary retired to her bed where she experienced a waking dream that inspired her to write Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. Initially intended as a short story, it would be two years before the novel was completed. 

Portrait of William Godwin by Henry William Pickersgill
William Godwin by Henry William Pickersgill

When the family returned to England they found Fanny Imlay in a state of deep unhappiness and by the end of 1816 both she and Shelley's estranged wife were dead, the two women having taken their own lives. Shelley and the pregnant Mary petitioned unsuccessfully for custody of his two children and to support their case, married on 30th December 1816. Godwin gave his blessing to the match and the union ended the bitter feud between father and daughter.

Mary devoted herself to writing and editing an account of the earlier journey through Europe, eventually publishing the History of a Six Weeks' Tour in 1817; a year later she anonymously published the novel she had begun in Geneva. Frankenstein caused a sensation and Mary would revise and reprint the novel several times, crediting her husband with writing the preface and inspiring and encouraging her to complete the work.

A few months after the birth of the couple's daughter, Clara, in September 1817, the family left England for Italy. Embarking of a tour of the country, the couple enjoyed an intellectual and social life that filled them with optimism and happiness. These cheery times were not to last though and both William and Clara died in Italy, the children passing away within a year of one another. Mary withdrew into a deep and agonising grief, immersing herself in solitary intellectual pursuits from which she would not begin to emerge until the birth of her son, Percy Florence, on 12th November 1819.

Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint, 1819
Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint, 1819

Mary's depression would return at intervals throughout her life and she struggled with her husband's infatuations with other women even as she enjoyed intense and abiding relationships of her own. At some point whilst visiting Naples the couple acquired another baby and though Mary and Percy were registered as parents to the little girl, the true maternity of the infant has never been established. Here on Gin Lane there was plenty of gossip that Claire had had yet another indiscretion or that Percy's free love had finally caught up with him, perhaps even that they had adopted a local babe. Whatever the truth of the tale, Elena Adelaide Shelley died in Naples before she was even two years old.

Photograph of draft pages from Frankenstein
Draft pages from Frankenstein

Mary would lose another unborn child in Italy, her health frequently failing and her depression darker than ever yet there was to be one final tragedy before the Italian trip was over. On 8th July 1822 Shelley set sail from Livorno for Lerici on board his new sailing boat; caught in a storm at sea, he would never reach his destination nor see his wife and child again.

Shelley was missing for ten days and a desperate Mary searched fruitlessly for her husband in Livorno until her darkest fears were realised when the poet's body was washed ashore near Viareggio. Here his body was cremated, though Mary did not attend this ceremony.

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton, 1857
Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton, 1857
Following Shelley's death the new widow remained in Italy, supporting herself initially through writing and translation work and then a small allowance gleaned from her father in law, Sir Timothy Shelley. He initially insisted that Mary's surviving child, Percy, be surrendered to him but Mary would not countenance such a suggestion and though he agreed to the allowance, he never met his daughter in law. Though his plans to take guardianship of the boy were unsuccessful, Sir Timothy did secure Mary's agreement never to write a biography of her late husband, on the understanding that her allowance would be cut off if she ever did so.

With some difficulty Mary managed with her limited finances and devoted herself to protecting and preserving the names and works of both her late husband and her parents. She continued with her own literary career, producing a number of novels and factual works and forged new friendships and liaisons. Under Mary's stewardship Shelley's writings enjoyed new acclaim and popularity and she devoted herself to her son, who adored her in return. Indeed, when Percy eventually married, Mary moved in with the new couple and enjoyed a happy and contented life.

Photograph of tomb of Mary Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin
The tomb of Mary and her parents

Mary died at the age of just 53 of what was apparently a brain tumour. She was buried in Bournemouth and, in accordance with her wishes, her parents were exhumed and buried alongside her. Among her final effects she left locks of her dead children's hair and a parcel of Shelley's ashes. 

Today Mary is rightly celebrated as a towering figure of the Romantic movement, a hugely talented and intelligent woman who forged her own path and survived unthinkable tragedies, pouring her very soul into the writings that are her legacy. There is no doubt, I think, that her beloved mother would have rightly been proud of all her daughter achieved and her name lives on, a literary legend. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Political Manoeuvrings of Maria Anna, Electress of Bavaria

Maria Anna Sophia of Saxony (Maria Anna Sophia Sabina Angela Franciska Xaveria; Dresden, Germany, 29th August 1728 – Munich, Germany, 17th February 1797) 

Portrait of Maria Anna by Georg Desmarées
Maria Anna by Georg Desmarées

We're graced with the presence of another regal lady here on Gin Lane today, so we've got the best tea service out. A shrewd negotiator, talented politician and even more of a force to be reckoned with than grandmother Gilflurt herself, it's time to hear the story of Maria Anna Sophia, Electress of Bavaria.

Maria Anna was born to privilege as one of fifteen children of King Augustus III of Poland and his wife, Maria Josepha of Austria. Among her siblings she could count at least one monarch and the mother to three French kings; raised to expect the best of everything, she was by all accounts an intelligent and thoughtful young lady.

Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria by Georg Desmarées, 1776
Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria by Georg Desmarées, 1776

In 1747 Maria Anna married the Bavarian Elector, Maximilian III Joseph, son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII. Maximilian Joseph was noted as an enlightened monarch who championed industry and education. The couple were together for thirty years but their marriage remained childless, meaning that succession was far from assured when Maximilian Joseph died in 1777.

Fearing for the future of the lands her husband had commanded, Maria Anna watched in horror as Austria began to encroach on Maximilian Joseph's territory, heralding the start of the War of Bavarian Succession. With her late husband's sister, Maria Antonia of Bavaria, Maria Anna opened secret negotiations with Frederick II of Prussia. She set out the case for the independence of Bavaria against its ever-more aggressive Austrian neighbours and ensured the succession of the dynastic line of her choosing. Deals were struck, bargains were made and Maria Anna secured the future of her adopted homeland.

Photograph of Fürstenried Palace
Fürstenried Palace

This intervention secured her place in the affections of the Bavarian people and she remained beloved of both public and nobility for the remainder of her life. Retiring from the public eye, Maria Anna took up residence in Fürstenried Palace and remained there happily until her death.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Stéphanie de Beauharnais, Grand Duchess of Baden: In Search of Destiny

Stéphanie de Beauharnais, Grand Duchess of Baden (Stéphanie Louise Adrienne de Beauharnais; Versailles, France, 28th August 1789 – Nice, France, 29th January 1860) 

Portrait of Stéphanie de Beauharnais, François Gérard , 1806
Stéphanie de Beauharnais by François Gérard, 1806

In the past few days we've soared into the clouds, delved into some deep thoughts and fought on the front line of the resistance with a formidable mother. For today's story we're taking a trip back to the Palace of Versailles in the days of revolution, this time to meet a woman who married to secure a Napoleonic alliance.

Stéphanie de Beauharnais was born at Versailles as the storm clouds of revolution gathered above France. She was the daughter of  Claude de Beauharnais, 2nd Count des Roches-Baritaud and Claudine Françoise de Lezay. Claudine succumbed to tuberculosis in 1791 and Stéphanie's father passed the responsibility for her care to Lady Bath, who devoted herself to ensuring the little girl had the best education possible. However, the French Revolution would touch Stéphanie personally and when her father's cousin, Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais, went to the guillotine on 23rd July 1794, the child's destiny was changed forever.

Drawing of Stéphanie de Beauharnais

At his execution, Alexandre left behind a widow in the figure of a certain Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie, his wife of almost fifteen years. Never one to let events overtake her, within two years the widow was remarried, her new husband the near-legendary Napoléon Bonaparte. With Napoleon's profile increasing, Claude de Beauharnais was happy to capitalise on his influence and gladly let him assume the role of patron of the family, enjoying the prestige and wealth that came with such a connection.

Following Napoleon's coronation Stéphanie took up residence in the Tuileries. Beautiful, cultured and close to the most important man in France, Stéphanie enjoyed the best of everything. Her life was one of opulence and privilege, but political dealings were afoot that would decide the young lady's future for her.

Charles, Grand Duke of Baden 

With an eye on securing his influence, Napoleon enthusiastically pursued an alliance with Charles Frederick, Elector of Baden and it was agreed between the two that this would be achieved via marriage. The elderly Elector produced Charles, his young, eligible grandson to satisfy his side of the match and Napoleon turned his eye on his extended, inherited family. With no legitimate children of his own, Napoleon decided that Stéphanie would more than fit the bill and swiftly adopted her, presenting her to the Elector and sealing the matrimonial deal.

Charles and Stéphanie were married in an elaborate ceremony in Paris on 8th April 1806 but for all its pomp, the marriage was destined to be an unhappy one. Utterly refusing to accept that he now had a wife, Charles promptly set up home alone in Karlsruhe and continued with his bachelor lifestyle, leaving his new bride to live alone in Mannheim. A furious Napoleon petitioned Charles Frederick to remedy the situation and he offered the couple the use of Schwetzingen Castle, but Stéphanie moved into the residence alone. Only the need to produce heirs finally drove the young man to reconcile with his bride, with the couple eventually having five children together.

Photograph of statue of Stéphanie de Beauharnais,  in Mannheim, Germany
Statue in Mannheim, Germany

In 1811 Karl became the Grand Duke of Baden with Stéphanie as his Grand Duchess; upon his death in 1818 the widow returned with her three surviving children to Mannheim. Here she enjoyed a new life as a highly popular society grand dame, devoting herself to her daughters and her love of intellectual pursuits. Finally able to live as she chose, Stéphanie held glittering salons and became a patroness of the arts, indulging this passion for the remainder of her life. 

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Johann Hamann: The Magus of the North

Johann Georg Hamann (Königsberg, Kingdom of Prussia, 27th August 1730 – Münster, Germany, 21st June 1788) 

Drawing of Johann Hamann

My first, very brief topic here on the Guide was a philosopher and now, a couple of months and many quills later, I'm back where I began with a thinking chap. There are a fair few philosophers of one stripe or another around Covent Garden but they're somewhat dependent on the gin bottle for their thoughts so I shan't be wasting any ink on them!

Born the son of a barber-surgeon and a midwife, Johann Hamann initially studied theology and philosophy before switching to law and then prevaricating between any number of subjects. Unable to settle on one topic he never completed his studies and instead took up a position as governor and tutor to the children of a wealthy family. Further business roles followed and he travelled widely and spent freely until, with his last penny spent, Hamann found himself destitute, his friends deserting him as his coffers dwindled.

In search of a new start the young man devoted himself to religious studies and also to Katharina Berens, the sister of a family friend. Deeply in love with Katharina, he was devastated when her family refused permission for them to marry on the grounds of Hamann's sudden and devout faith and withdrew back to the family home. With the help of his friend, Immanuel Kant, Hamann secured a position as a civil servant and devoted his free time to study and writing under pen names including the Knight of the Rose-Cross and the Magus of the North. Despite his deep religious faith he took up home with a woman and had four children with her, maintaining a happy family household.

Drawing of Johann Hamann

Hamann's writings were always brief; he disliked long-winded exposition and exposed on the philosophical importance of language. He was a critic of the Enlightenment and wrote of the vital importance of religion, believing that faith, not reason, was central to human experience. His writings influenced the later German Sturm und Drang movement and had a profound effect on other thinkers including Kierkegaard and Goethe, who followed his complex theories and developed them in their own work. 

Towards the end of his life Hamann's writings became even deeper and he examined the very foundations of philosophy and humanity, frequently challenging head-on the theories of his contemporaries. In the final months of his life he travelled to Münster at the invitation of Princess Gallitzin to discuss philosophy with her; Hamann died during this trip, leaving behind a wealth of writings that still fascinate today.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Story of the Montgolfiere Balloon

Joseph-Michel Montgolfier (Annonay, Ardèche, France, 26th August 1740 – Balaruc-les-Bains, France, 26th June 1810)
Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier (Annonay, Ardèche, France, 6th January 1745 – Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 2nd August 1799)

Engraving of the Montgolfier Brothers

On the day she heard of the first hot air balloon flight, my old grandmother Gilflurt put on her heaviest shoes and declared that, if God had meant us to fly, he would have given us feathers somewhere other than on our hats. I'm not so sure I agree with that and to be honest, she is given to the odd bout of battiness anyway. Today we're celebrating the birthday of one half of the famed Montgolfier brothers so it's time to go back to France but without a guillotine in sight.

The brothers who would make their names in the air were born into down to earth surroundings, joining a family of papermakers and fourteen other siblings. From childhood the boys were like the faces of a coin, Joseph a creative dreamer and the younger Étienne a born businessman who eventually took over the family paper business. Under his management the firm went from strength to strength and the already considerable fortunes of the Montgolfiers were raised still further. He introduced new engineering innovations, winning praise from the government as the Montgolfier paper business was held up as an example of a model to French industry.

Illustration of the Montgolfier flight

Whilst his brother was a practical man, Joseph often found his mind drifting in contemplation of some new invention or innovation, sometimes finding inspiration in the most unlikely places. Whilst watching washing drying above an open fire in 1777 he was fascinated by the way the linen was blown upwards, observing that wood chips were buoyed by the flames. He immediately began contemplating the uses for such a discovery and began conducting small experiments into the properties of heat.

Five years later he undertook his first serious experiments into the use of hot air for buoyancy, hoping that this new technology might be used to power airborne military assaults. He built a box with a roof and floor of cloth and found that, by lighting a fire beneath it, he could induce it to float. Joseph was incredibly excited by the results of his experiments and wrote of the gas he wrongly believed was contained in smoke, which he named Montgolfier gas. From small-scale beginnings the brothers conducted larger experiments and were able to replicate their successes.

Mindful that others might also be following a simple path, the brothers decided that they must make a public showing of their findings, settling on building a Montgolfiere balloon that was then flown at Annonay. The balloon was aloft for ten minutes and the brothers were invited to Paris to repeat the demonstration. However, the shy Joseph elected not to participate, leaving Étienne to perform the demonstration.

Plans for the Montgolfier Balloon

The brothers were the toast of the city and capitalised on their success by moving on to even greater things, constructing an ornate 37,500-cubic-foot balloon of sky blue. Although Louis XVI was all for sending up convicts on that first flight the brothers instead elected to load the basket with a sheep, a duck and a rooster. An excited crowd gathered at Versailles and witnessed as the first living beings took to the air, remaining aloft for almost ten minutes before making a safe landing.

Spurred on by this new success, Joseph and Étienne developed an even larger, far grander balloon decorated with royal symbolism. The ornate creation was first tested by Ètienne in a tethered flight but the first humans to fly in an untethered balloon were Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier (later the first man to die in a balloon accident) and François Laurent, marquis d'Arlandes. As the Montgolfiere balloon lifted into the air from the grounds of the Château de la Muette on 21st November 1783, a stunned crowd watched the men float high above Paris and out over the city walls before Pilâtre ended the flight, concerned by the way the fire was scorching the balloon. Despite this the people of France were thrilled and the merchandisers went to town feeding the public hunger from commemorative items, with the King bestowing honours on the Montgolfier family.

Illustration of the Montgolfier flight

Hailed as national heroes, the two brothers were honoured by the French Académie des Sciences and became leading authorities in the French scientific community; today their names are forever linked with innovation in flight, not a bad legacy for two boys from Annonay.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

George Stubbs, Equestrian Painter

George Stubbs (Liverpool, England, 25th August 1724 – London, England, 10th July 1806)

Self Portrait by George Stubbs, 1781

While I recover from the decadence of my birthday celebrations, let's leave matriarchs and kings behind in favour of another artist and enjoy a pastoral interlude in the company of George Stubbs.

Little is known of the early years of George Stubbs and though his peer, Ozias Humphry, set down a few notes about his fellow artist's younger years they are brief and their veracity unconfirmed.  Still, they're all we have to go on - even grandmother Gilflurt didn't know this young man!

Stubbs was born to a Liverpool currier and leather merchant and took up the same trade, joining his father's business and remaining there until the death of Stubbs senior in 1741. Suddenly free to indulge his artistic ambitions, the young man travelled to Lancashire where he served as an apprentice to a local artist named Hamlet Winstanley. Hoping to learn more of his craft, Stubbs was disappointed to find himself given the task of copying works, with little room for self-expression. Rather than remain in the role of apprentice Stubbs struck out on his own, travelling northern England working as a portrait painter.

Portrait of Isabella Saltonstall byGeorge Stubbs, 1765
Portrait of Isabella Saltonstall, 1765

Building his reputation little by little, Stubbs continued to paint as he took up a studentship at York County Hospital, where he studied human anatomy. He left the Hospital in 1751, the same year in which he was commissioned to illustrate a midwifery manual. By now more than proficient in his chosen craft, the young man decided the time was right to broaden his horizons a little. In search of further inspiration he toured Italy before returning home to England where he set up home in Lincolnshire with Mary Spencer.

His early career and anatomical studies left Stubbs with a fascination for equine studies and he now devoted himself to this subject, dissecting horses and learning all he could of their anatomy. With Mary at his side he finally arrived in London in 1759 where, seven years later, he put his learning to use in the publication of the seminal work, The Anatomy of the Horse. Thanks to his extraordinary artistic work in the equine field Stubbs became a favourite of the upper classes and when the Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond, commissioned a number of pieces from Stubbs, his future was guaranteed. The Duke was just one of many ennobled patrons and Stubbs was soon secure in both finance and reputation, the man to go to for sporting pictures.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs, 1762
Whistlejacket, 1762

Initially a keen exhibitor at the Society of Artists, Stubbs specialised not only in depicting horses but also their grooms, whom he would paint alongside the animal in their care. Though he still worked on portraits throughout his career it was for his equine works that he became famous, eventually exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1775. However, his status as a sporting painter meant he was ineligible for full membership of the Academy. 

The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt by George Stubbs, 1765
The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt, 1765

Branching out into printmaking and engraving, Stubbs finally made an uncharacteristically poor decision when he invested a large amount of money into a new scheme of painting on enamel. The expensive enterprise failed and Stubbs was left in debt, a situation he remedied by swiftly returning to his more familiar works.

A Grey Hunter with a Groom and a Greyhound at Creswell Crags by George Stubbs, 1762
A Grey Hunter with a Groom and a Greyhound at Creswell Crags, 1762

As he grew older the artist's list of patrons grew ever more illustrious and the Prince of Wales was a particular fan. At the time of his death, the 81 year old Stubbs was already working on another painting, an anatomical study that he left unfinished. His works are both highly detailed but also invested with a sense of beauty, perfectly capturing the character of each horse as other artists might capture a human portrait subject. He remains arguably the greatest equine painter the country has ever produced, his works in high demand when they appear on sale.

If that's whetted your appetite for Stubbs, you can see more here and here!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Letizia Buonaparte: The Life of Madame Mère

Maria Letizia Buonaparte née Ramolino (Corsica, 24th August 1750 – Rome, Italy, 2nd February 1836)

Portrait of Letizia Buonaparte by Robert Lefèvre, 1813
Letizia Buonaparte by Robert Lefèvre, 1813

Well, it's time to shout huzzah, crack open the best gin, get the pheasant on the spit and take a turn around the dance floor because today is Madame Gilflurt's birthday! Such an auspicious occasion doesn't seem suited for more tales of the guillotine and when I was rifling through my drawers in search of some gossip today, I came across the name of Maria Lerizia Romilino. She may not be a lady you're familiar with, but I'll wager you've heard of her boy, a somewhat notorious chap by the name of Napoleon.

Born in Corsica, Letizia was the daughter of Angela Maria Pietrasanta and Giovanni Geronimo Ramolino, a Captain in the Army of the Republic of Genoa. Somewhere a long way along the Ramolino family tree her father could claim link to a family of low rank Genoan nobles and Letizia grew up aware of her position in the world, a smart and intelligent girl despite having no formal education.

When his daughter was five years old Giovanni died but Angela wouldn't be single for long. Sticking with the military theme she married Franz Fesch, a naval officer of considerably higher birth than his predecessor had been. Moving in more affluent circles now, Letizia was in her early teens when she met Carlo Buonaparte, a Corsican law student of noble birth who liked the look of the girl's more than generous dowery.

Portrait of Carlo Buonaparte
Carlo Buonaparte

When the couple married in June 1764 the bride and groom were aged 14 and 17 respectively and would remain together for just over two decades until Carlo died of cancer. Their first child, named Napoleone, was born within the first twelve months of marriage, though he would not live for more than a year, with twelve more children following. Eight of the Buonaparte children survived infancy and the majority were awarded high office in the wake of Napoleon's military successes.

Brave, dedicated and fiercely loyal, Letizia joined Carlo when he fought against invading French forces. She was pregnant with her most famous child at the time and was eventually forced to flee the fighting over treacherous terrain, giving birth soon after her return. She toiled tirelessly at her husband's side and cared little for the feminine niceties of the nobility, preferring the outdoors and the excitement that came from being at the centre of the action. However, once she became a mother Letizia left her wild days behind, dedicating her every moment to her children.

Letizia was a strict disciplinarian but encouraged expression and ambition among her young ones, particularly Napoleon. Her relationship from her husband was not always rosy and the couple suffered periods of financial strain thanks to Carlo's love of gambling and his propensity for entering into poor business arrangements. In fact, when Carlo died he left his family with a mountain of debt, Letizia relying first on inheritances and then on Napoleon for financial support.

Letizia Buonaparte by François Gérard, 1803

In 1805 Letizia was awarded the title "Madam, the Mother of His Majesty the Emperor" (Madame Mère de Sa Majesté l'Empereur), an honour that left her utterly outraged when her children were being made kings and emperors. Smarting from the perceived slight she nevertheless threw herself into life as mother of the Emperor and exercised great influence over her powerful children, taking a leading role in the charitable doings of their respective states and acting as the unofficial governor of Corsica.

When Napoleon was exiled to Elba she went with him, encouraging him to take back the offices and lands that she believed were rightfully his. Following his defeat at Waterloo, Madame Mère retained a generous pension and took refuge at the Palazzo D'Aste-Bonaparte in piazza Venezia with her brother, Joseph Fesch.

Drawing of Letizia Buonaparte

She devoted her days to religious observances and petitioning fruitlessly for the release of her son. Here she grew old, infirm and unhappy, retreating into seclusion until she died at the age of 85, many of her children having predeceased her.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

"I Die Innocent": The Life of Louis XVI

Louis XVI (Versailles, France, 23rd August 1754 – Paris, France, 21st January 1793) 

Portrait of Louis XVI by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis , 1776
Louis XVI by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis , 1776

There have been a few too many guillotines around these parts of late and today we're beneath the National Razor again, this time in the company of a king. We've already watched the Bastille fall, witnessed the Insurrection of 10th August and followed the man behind the Reign of Terror  to the guillotine, so let's gad back to Versailles and see where it all began.

Louis Auguste de France, Duc de Berry, was born to Louis, the Dauphin of France, and Maria Josepha of Saxony. Timid and studious, the boy's relationship with his parents was somewhat distant and he threw himself into his studies under the Duc de la Vauguyon, a strict disciplinarian. When his father died, the 11 year old Louis succeeded him as Dauphin; at the death of his mother two years later, the boy immersed himself even further in his education, excelling in his studies as he grew into a quiet young man.

In 1770, Louis was married to the 14 year old Habsburg Archduchess Maria Antonia, better known to history as Marie Antoinette. The daughter of a Holy Roman Emperor, the marriage cemented a powerful dynasty and  marriage took place by proxy on 19th April in the Church of the Augustine Friars, Vienna. The young bride was presented to her new family on 7th May 1770, the wedding ceremony following just over a week later. 

Portrait of Marie Antoinette and her Three Children, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1787
Marie Antoinette and her Three Children, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1787

Away from the public gaze the marriage was far from passionate. Desperately shy, Louis did not consummate the union for seven years and as an heir became an increasingly distant hope, pamphleteers and balladeers made bawdy sport of the couple. Eventually Louis and Marie would have four children together but by the time the first was born, the country was already rife with rumour that the king was unable to father an heir. 

In 1774 the young man became King Louis XVI; utterly overwhelmed and underprepared by his education, Louis was an indecisive and timid ruler, desperate to be liked by the people even as he allowed himself to be influenced by his ministers and advisers. A series of unpopular policy decisions and poor foreign policies knocked the new King's confidence even further and, with the government descending deeper and deeper into debt, Louis found himself scrutinised by politicians and public alike. 

Portrait of Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet, 1786
Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet, 1786

The royal household was seen as profligate and wasteful both at home and overseas. Whilst the disastrous Seven Years' War and the part played by France in the American War of Independence were ruinously expensive, Louis prevaricated over financial reform and appointed Jacques Necker to sort out the fiscal mess the country was falling into. Hugely popular with the people, Necker's eventual dismissal would play a part in the fall of the Bastille. 

The public weren't only taxed to the limit, they were starving too and famine swept the land in the 1780s. A cloud of dissent swirled as the masses looked to Versailles where they saw opulence and luxury beyond their imagining. They were, they believed, ruled by a King who could not possibly imagine what the lives of his subjects were like. His wife was draped in the latest fashions, his household filled with luxuries available and while the people starved, the court dined on fine foods. His popularity fast waning, Louis struggled to reconcile the wishes of his subjects and his advisors as influential and ambitious nobles and politicians jockeyed to take advantage of his indecisive, quiet nature.

Painting of the Tennis Court Oath by Jacques-Louis David, 1791
The Tennis Court Oath by Jacques-Louis David, 1791

Bowing to the wishes of his advisors, Louis faltered when it came to matters of reform and summoned the Estates-General for the first time since 1614, intending for this body to make taxation decisions. The decision proved a fateful one and the Third Estate, clamouring for equality, met to take the Tennis Court Oath, a seminal moment in France. 

Furious at their exclusion from a meeting in the Hôtel des Menus Plaisirs in Versailles, members of the Third Estate held a conference on a nearby tennis court. They believed that they were deliberately refused entry to the meeting and swore an oath of allegiance that they would not disband until a French constitution was written. It has been suggested that the doors of the meeting hall were likely locked as the royal family was in mourning for the King's oldest son, who had been dead barely a fortnight. Nevertheless, the Oath was a turning point as French citizens formally declared their opposition to the monarch. Faced with this vote of no-confidence, Louis attempted to make concessions but the damage was done and the idea of constitution began to take root. Less than a month later there were mobs on the streets of Paris and the Bastille fell

Painting of the Royal Family Return to Paris, by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux, 1791
The Royal Family Return to Paris, by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux, 1791

Even now the events that led to the scaffold were beginning to form and Louis entered into talks with politicians, the family by now under effective house arrest in the Tuileries. Fearing for his future, Louis and his family fled for Montmédy and the protection of Austria; longer-term they hoped to return with a force made up of allies and sympathetic nations and reassert monarchial authority. However, indecision struck Louis again and he postponed the escape multiple times, not quite able to believe that his popularity had diminished to the point of revolution. 

When the family finally did undertake what has become known as the flight to Varennes on the night of 20th June, the plan was doomed to failure. Apparently recognising Louis from his portrait on currency a local man, Jean-Baptiste Drouet, raised the alarm. There would be no further chance to escape and the royal family was returned to the Tuileries and placed under arrest once more.

Looking to his fellow monarchs for support, Louis found himself met by a wall of platitudinous concern but little in the way of action. Declarations were issued, sabres were rattled and fingers were wagged but nobody rode to his rescue. France found now that it had few friends on the continent and one can only imagine how Louis must have felt as he watched his last remaining chances for escape slipping away bit by bit. When the Tuileries was stormed by a mob, the royal family was escorted out of the Palace to the Legislative Assembly, their already restricted world shrinking even further.

Painting of the King at The Temple, Jean-François Garneray
The King at The Temple, Jean-François Garneray 

The man who had once sat on the throne of France was arrested on 13th August 1792 and sent to the Temple, a Parisian prison that would be his final home. Just over a month later the National Assembly abolished the Monarchy, declaring France a Republic. Stripped of his titles, the imprisoned King Louis XVI was now known as nothing more grand that Citoyen Louis Capet. As his opponents were now to find, abolishing a monarchy was one thing but there remained the problem of what to do with the monarch when he no longer had a kingdom to rule. Moderate Girondins strongly encouraged the continued imprisonment of Louis whilst their more radical colleagues argued for nothing less than execution. Once more the politicians debated until, on 11th December, Louis and his counsel, Raymond Romain, Comte de Sèze,  appeared before the Convention to hear charges of high treason and crimes against the State.

Engraving of the Execution of Louis XVI by  Isidore-Stanislas Helman, 1794
The Execution of Louis XVI by  Isidore-Stanislas Helman, 1794

The trial lasted just over a month and on 15th January 1793, the verdict of guilty was read out. Among those who decided that the sentence should be death was Louis's own cousin, Philippe Égalité, the former Duc d'Orléans. The prisoner was returned to the Temple to prepare for his fate, his appointed with the executioner scheduled for 21st January 1793.

On the last evening of his life Louis said his farewells to his family; more than anything he wished to spare his children the agony of knowing they would never see their father again and told them that he would see them again in the morning, a meeting that was destined never to happen. At dawn on the day of his execution he celebrated mass and then, all hope of mercy gone, prepared to journey by carriage to the scaffold where a crowd of thousands waited.

Dignified to the last Louis showed no fear as he approached the guillotine and told the hostile citizens, 'I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France.'

Minutes later, Louis XVI was dead, his body transported for burial in the churchyard of the Church of the Madeleine. Here he lay until 21st January 1815 when he and Marie Antoinette's remains were retrieved and interred beside the King's ancestors in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, their memories honoured by a monument to their passing.

Photograph of funerary monuments of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, Saint Denis Basilica, France
Funerary monuments of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, Saint Denis Basilica, France

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