Several months ago we spotted this beautiful miniature painted on ivory in an antique shop in Connecticut. I suggested that it would make a perfect birthday present for someone named Patricia and that I would agree to forget about it until it was the right time. We hadn’t brought our check book with us and the shop owner didn’t take credit cards. He suggested that we just send him a check when we got home. Wow! That was incredibly trusting of him.
When I got home, and before I started to forget about it, I worked on deciphering the handwriting on the back of the miniature. I learned that the miniature was a copy of a portrait of Pauline Borghese, the younger sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. The original was painted by Salomon-Guillaume Counis in 1810 and today hangs in the Uffizi in Florence.
Counis was born in Geneva and came to Paris to train. It was there that his met and painted Pauline Borghese. When she moved to Florence, she brought Counis with her. The painting was named “La belle Greque” (lah bel grek), but I can’t find out why as Borghese was born in Corsica and never lived in Greece. This is just supposition on my part, but paintings of classical antiquity were highly prized in 19th century France. Some of the other paintings by Counis have names that also refer to the classical era and the gown that Borghese is wearing is draped in the manner of a Grecian robe.
While the fortunes of the Napoleon family fell, rose, and then definitively fell, Counis must have found happiness in Florence, as he remained there until his death in 1859. While there’s no way of knowing who painted my copy, or when it was done, now that my birthday has come and gone, I treasure my miniature piece of French history. And maybe I need to go visit the original in Florence for my next birthday!