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The portrait of Élisa by Marie–Guillelmine Benoist in Lucca

Marie–Guillemine Benoist, Portrait of Élisa Bonaparte. Lucca, National Museum of Palazzo Mansi
Marie–Guillemine Benoist, Portrait of Élisa Bonaparte. Lucca, National Museum of Palazzo Mansi

Long attributed to different artists, from Lefèvre to Le Thière to Tofanelli, the Portrait of Élisa was traced to its author, Marie–Guillemine Benoist, by Eugenio Lazzareschi as late as 1929, despite the initials MBG and the date on the left side of the painting. Benoist enjoyed a certain degree of fame at the imperial court in Paris from early on, due to her gifts as a portraitist and for having a style close to that of Gérard, a painter considered by Élisa to be unsurpassable. Shortly after her arrival in Lucca, Élisa decided to commission from the painter portraits of herself and her husband Felice, in accordance with a fundamental principle of Napoleonic ideology, which held the portrait to be the fastest and most effective means of propaganda. It is precisely in this regard that the Portrait of Élisa circulates a series of symbolic messages: the choice of clothing places her close to the imperial aura of her brother, Napoleon, as does the rich armchair with a swan, another symbol dear to the Empire, which alludes to the throne without actually being one.
Élisa is represented in grande robe du sacre, or rather the dress that she wore on 2 December 1804 for the ceremony of the crowning of Napoleon as emperor, the event taking place in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in the presence of Pope Pius VII. It is a rich gown in white silk with gold embroidery, cut under the bust, with a wide neckline surrounded by lace and to which a crimson velvet mantle has been attached, embroidered in gold with motifs characteristic of the Empire. An impressive diadem and pearl earring emphasize the paleness of her face, which in turn contrasts with her large black eyes. The sovereign, portrayed in a simple and gracious pose, seems to have just sat down on an armchair of which one glimpses only one arm in the shape of a swan, and next to her is a large vase filled with flowers.

Marie–Guillelmine Benoist, Portrait of Élisa Baciocchi
National Museum of Palazzo Mansi
Via Galli Tassi, 43

The museum is open according to the following schedule
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Admission ticket: full 4 euros, reduced 2 euros; cumulative for the two national museums (Palazzo Mansi and Villa Guinigi) 6.50 euros, reduced 3.25 euros
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