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Villa San Martino on the Island of Elba

The Villa San Martino was chosen by Napoleon for his private residence in Portoferraio during his exile on Elba, which lasted from 4 May 1814 to 26 February 1815.
The project was awarded to architect Paolo Bargigli, who owed a great part of his fortune to the projects commissioned from him by Élisa Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister, in Massa and Lucca. The project entailed the transformation of a villa immersed in woods and vineyards into a residence worthy of an emperor, which Napoleon still retained himself to be. Everything needed to be as it was in Paris (“que tout soit comme à Paris”), and so the square–plan building with two upper floors was expanded and its facade opened up onto a hanging garden from which one enjoyed – and still enjoys today – an extraordinary view of the Portoferraio harbour. Antonio Vincenzo Revelli was commissioned to carry out the pictorial decorations: the frescoes in the Stanza del Nodo d’amore (Room of the Love Knot) are dedicated to the marriage of Napoleon to Marie Louise of Habsburg Lorraine, whereas those of the Sala Egizia (Egyptian Room) feature trompe–l’oeil with hieroglyphics and pyramids, a large zodiac on the ceiling and salient moments from Napoleon’s undertakings, with an octagonal pool designed to accommodate papyrus plants, in the Eastern style, in the pavement of the room.

When Napoleon left the island, the villa was abandoned until the Russian prince, Anatole Demidoff, who had married one of Napoleon’s nieces, acquired the building. There he established what is today known as the Galleria Demidoff, designed to house mementos and artworks in celebration of the Napoleonic myth. The Villa San Martino is currently, together with the Palazzo dei Mulini, the seat of the National Museum of the Napoleonic Residences on the Island of Elba.

Villa San Martino
Locale: San Martino
Portoferraio (Livorno)

The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 9 AM to 7 PM; Sunday 9 AM to 1 PM, closed Mondays