PAULINE BONAPARTE IN THE BORGHESE GALLERY: BEAUTY AND SCANDAL

PAOLINA BONAPARTE ANTONIO CANOVA (1804-1808)

PAOLINA BONAPARTE
ANTONIO CANOVA
(1804-1808)

Indro Montanelli in his famous History of Italy says that she is the only Bonaparte who preferred love to power and made it with everyone…and sometimes even with her husband!

Icon of Canova’s art is one of the most praised creations.

It was commissioned by Prince Camillo Borghese, Pauline’s second husband. Originally Canova thought of portraying the emperor’s favourite sister as Diana but the 25 year-old,who was  famous for her “character” did not want.

Once the sculpture was finished it was sent to Turin where the prince resided at the moment and it was immediately admired and praised during receptions and balls either in the Turinese palace or later at Villa Borghese where the statue was transferred after the fall of the Napoleonic empire.

If usually an ancient model was used to suit a modern shape here it is vice versa, Canova in fact does not portray the princess as the goddess but it seems to give Venus the woman’s appearance.

Victorious as Venus holding the apple received by Paris, Pauline triumphs proud in her provoking and fascinating nakedness lying on a chaise longue or Greek bed ( which is not a simple base but it becomes an integral part of the sculpture itself) decorated with vegetal motifs and palmettes closed in the lower parts by a thick drapery, with golden fringes.

The figure has a completely naked bust and the legs are covered by a soft drapery with small foldings.

Such a nudity aroused scandal at the time.

Lying with a coy posture she places her right elbow on the pillows near the bedhead and stretches the other along the heap holding tenderly with her fingers the trophy of her vanity

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Pauline turns her head to the left escaping the observer’s sight.

To the neoclassical beauty of the face contrasts the pleasing effect of the skin which naturally folds in the heap and in the neck revealing the carnal softness of the body.

The strong realism is given by the fact that Canova had covered the body with a thin layer of melted wax which gave the marble a delicate pink tone.

The wooden draped support as a catafalque houses inside a mechanism that makes the sculpture rotate as with other works by Canova.

So the role of the work and the visitor.

The work moves while the steady observer is astonished by the fugitive images of a sculpture which is marvellous on all sides.

At night time at candle light the observers admired the sculpture in its soft light and its brightness was not due only to the fine marble but also by the wax coating mentioned above.

paolina bonaparte
In the four corners there are 4 small hooded Roman spirits forerunners of the modern dwarfs that in ancient times could mean good or bad omens.

Do not miss this engaging experience and book a tour of the Borghese Gallery with Overome!

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