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The Borghese Beauty
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The Borghese Beauty

In our most recent THATLou post we lingered on an introduction to the Borghese Collection at the Louvre. Though necessary, it was honestly a bit sober. So in developing this story line (before getting to the actual crux — an item or two of the collection itself!) I thought we needed some juicy gossip. And what makes for juicier gossip than scandal? It’s hard to top the stories of Messalina, as touched on in a previous post, but Pauline Borghese, Napoleon’s sister and wife to Prince Camillo Borghese, certainly comes a close second in “shock” factor.



Portrait of PrinceCamillo Borghese, by Francois Gerard (1770-1837) location unknown, wikipedia.org

She was the beauty of the family, 6th of the 8 children born to Napoleon’s parents in Ajaccio, Corsica. At the age of 16, in 1796 (just as Napoleon was starting to make his mark on history, during the Italian Campaign), she fell madly in love with a 40-year old syphilitic philanderer. To distract her, the family married her off to one of Napoleon’s soldiers, General Victor Emmanuel Leclerc (whom Nappy incidentally caught her being let’s say, indiscreet with behind a screen at the Palazzo Mombello in Milano — but I get the idea he didn’t share this morsel with his family).  

Despite having a son by Leclerc (Dermide, whom Napoleon, ever the control-freak, named), Pauline set herself up with many a lover. The family was posted to Haiti, which is where she may have developed her taste for sleeping with black men. It is well documented (a small bit of trivia that I remember from high school when we had to spend time at the Museo Napoleonico in Rome. Just as an aside, these completely un-useful bits of trivia is exactly how my history teachers hooked me on their rich subject) that she was in the habit of having her large black servant, Paul, carry her to the bath every day, and would spend an inordinate number of hours receiving guests from the bath – talk about being hungry for attention! She’d also apparently use ladies-in-waiting as foot servants — literally stepping on their backs.



Portrait of PrinceCamillo Borghese, by Francois Gerard (1770-1837) location unknown, wikipedia.org

Unlike either her older brother (who spent a large part of his life being her PR spin doctor, in addition to being self-appointed ‘Emperor’ of Europe) or Messalina (3rd Empress of Rome and a flagrant hussy), Pauline didn’t seem to have any ambition — her interest was pure frivolity and sex. Eight months after Leclerc died she secretly remarried the handsome Prince Camillo Borghese. This rush infuriated Napoleon (Ironically with such a sister, Napoleon tried to instill a code of good morals. Compare Jacques-Louis David’s Portrait of Mme. Recamier (1800, at the Louvre) to Antonio Canova’s sculpture of Pauline – which at her request was nearly nude and posed as Venus Victrix – 1805-8 at the Galleria Borghese). Throughout her infidelities, there was a modicum of decency and even loyalty about her. Though she swiftly cheated on Borghese — who was forced into selling a large part of his family’s art collection to his nouveau-riches self-coronated Emperor brother-in-law — she also secured Camillo the post of Governor of Piedmont and guardian of Napoleon’s prisoner, Pope Pius VII (two tasks Camillo coveted). And though she caused a lot of trouble for her brother (who adored her), she is also the only Bonaparte sibling to have supported him after he was deposed and sent to Elba. 



British Embassy on rue du Fbg St Honore, taken from flickr.com/eisenphotovideo

In fact according to Alistair Horne’s The Age of Napoleon, she liquidated most of her assets to go and live with Nappy in Elba and better his situation (although she kept her pretty frocks `to make him happy`). Among her assets was a sumptuous little number on rue du Faubourg St-Honore which she sold to the Duke of Wellingtonafter the Battle of Waterloo, and which since then has been the British Embassy of France. Apparently Wellington “gained the respect of the Parisians when, as the victor, he could have grabbed it for nothing, but insisted on paying the full price.



Pauline Borghese’s Paris Palace, now the British Embassy taken from Hector Berlioz’s website

Just as a small reminder – when little morsels are randomly placed in bold, it just may mean that those could conceivably arise as answers to bonus questions. The Borghese Beauty is applicable to any number of THATLous, since the Borghese Collection has the Three Graces (Beauty), wild satyrs (Bestiary), wonderful Craters (Food + Wine), and Roman Sarcophagi (Skull Scouting Halloween Hunt), etc.


English historian Alistair Horne has written a number of great books on Napoleon and his time. And here’s a good New York Times article about the Borghese Collection au Louvre (no bonus questions – just if interested).
A Basanite Babe
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A Basanite Babe


Livia Drusilla, standing marble sculpture as Ops, with wheat sheaf and cornucopia, 1st C BC, Louvre

Livia Drusilla, first Empress of Rome, was indisputably the most powerful woman in the Julio-Claudian Roman Empire. All Julio-Claudian emperors were her direct descendents, despite having a childless marriage to the 1st Emperor of Rome, Augustus (formerly Octavian Augustus, back when there was a triumvirate and Rome was a Republic). This marriage lasted 50 years and by all accounts was a partnership of two clever minds. Livia (58 BC – 29 AD) saw to it that her son Augustus’s step-son, inherited the throne. This, despite the fact that Augustus intended five others to inherit the throne (all of whom happened to die, some under rather suspicious conditions).


Basanite bust of Empress Livia (58 BC – 29 AD), Louvre

Because this bust is basanite (a volcanic rock), it’s believed to have been sculpted just after the Battle of Actium (2 September 31 BC), when Octavian Augustus seized Cleopatra’s kingdom (the loss of this naval battle caused Mark Anthony to commit suicide). This would have made Livia 27 years old, already an able leader just as cunning as her Egyptian counterpart, Queen Cleopatra.

With senators on both sides of her family, Livia was not only the crème of the Roman aristocratic crop, she also had financial independence from Emperor Augustus (and from her former husband, the father of her two sons) through being granted the ‘marks of status’ in 35 AD, which was rarely granted to women. Soon thereafter she was also granted the sancrosancitas, which gave her the same rights Augustus had.

Tacitus described Livia as malevolent and called her a “feminine bully” and Robert Graves had a ball depicting her shrewd ambition in I, Claudius as the epitome of a scheming matriarch poisoning anyone who crossed her, and anyone who got in the path of her son Tiberius inheriting the throne (though Graves did a great service to widening our BBC knowledge of Roman History, he might have been slightly fictitious). But no one questioned the fact of either her cunning intelligence or her absolute power. Second only to her husband. The Julio-Claudian family tree can be slightly complicated with brothers and sisters marrying (Caligula, for one), but all of the Emperors stemmed from Livia. Tiberius (14-37 AD) was her son, Caligula (37-41 AD) her grandson, Claudius (41 – 54 AD) her grandson, Nero (54-68 AD) her great-grandson.

With so many anecdotes under her belt, Livia is a perfect candidate for plenty of THATLou Themes, from Kings + Leaders to Ladies au Louvre or seen as Ops holding wheat she could even be suitable for the Thanksgiving Food + Wine hunt. Wheat was free in Rome, which is perhaps why their bread is so delicious … 2000 years of practice with the forno certainly shows off! As for her Cornucopia, abounding with fruit, there’s another larger one found two rooms over in this Denon ground floor (Rez-de-Chausse, in French).

Things in bold are sometimes references to bonus questions…