(Rome, 1771–1844)

Portrait of Maria Luisa de Bourbon, 1817 ca.

Pencil on paper
390 x 290 mm.

Cantalupo in Sabina, Palazzo Camuccini, the collection of Baron Vincenzo Camuccini


This drawing is related to the portrait of Maria Luisa de Bourbon (1782–1824) which Vincenzo Camuccini painted in 1817 and which now hangs in the Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Palazzo Pitti in Florence. The daughter of King Charles IV of Spain and of his consort Queen Maria Luisa de Bourbon Parma, Maria Luisa grew up and was educated in Spain, only coming to Italy in 1801 when the Treaty of Lunéville assigned the newly established Kingdom of Etruria (as the Grand Duchy of Tuscany had been rechristened) to her husband, Prince Louis de Bourbon, the heir to Parma. When Louis died only two years later, Maria Luisa held the regency of the kingdom on behalf of her young son Charles Louis until 1807, at which time the Kingdom of Etruria was annexed to the Napoleonic empire and Maria Luisa was exiled together with her children. She returned to Spain and also spent time in several different regions of France. Charged with plotting against the empire, she was arrested in Nice in 1811, sentenced to imprisonment and packed off to Rome, where she was separated from Charles Louis, her firstborn son, and imprisoned with her daughter Charlotte in the convent of Santi Domenico e Sisto. She was to remain in the convent from the summer of 1811 until January 1814, when she was released by Giocchino Murat's troops. After the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna assigned the Duchy of Lucca to her, but she was reluctant to accept the agreement and chose to stay in Rome instead, effectively taking possession of her new duchy only towards the end of 1817. During the few years in which she reigned over her small duchy she displayed intense religious zeal and adopted strongly conservative policies, but at the same time she actively supported cultural initiatives and measures designed to further the region's development – indeed so much so that its economic circumstances had greatly improved by the time she died.
Camuccini painted the portrait during the time in which Maria Luisa was living in Rome, immediately before her departure for Lucca, and had completed it by October 1817 (Tosi, p. 80). The duchess had successfully weathered the tough and – for her – extremely painful years of the Napoleonic domination by then, so Camuccini portrayed her with a lively and confident expression, in a sober but elegantly sophisticated environment clearly reflecting both her rank and the serenity that she had regained thanks to the restoration of her ancient privileges. The decorations sported by the duchess – the badge of the Order of the Starr Cross, a female order of chivalry established by the Habsburgs in 1688, and the Cross of the Royal Order of Noble Ladies of Queen Maria Luisa, founded by her father in 1792, its enamelled Maltese cross standing out proudly on the duchess's chest and held in place by the order's ribbon consisting in three vertical bands – also seem intended to underscore the return to order. Maria Luisa lived surrounded by her family during the years that she spent in the papal capital after her release from prison, because in those same years her parents, the now deposed King Charles IV of Spain and his consort Queen Maria Luisa, were also living in exile in Rome. When Maria Luisa departed for Lucca in December 1817, she took Camuccini's painting with her and hung it in the Palazzo Ducale "in around 1817" (Pinto 1972, p. 116). In the inventories the picture is marked with the letter "P", indicating that it had been moved to Lucca; this was to distinguish it from other items which were either new or were already in Lucca. The duchess felt a deep bond with the papal capital even after the move and she spent a great deal of time there, particularly during the winter months, even going as far as to purchase a home in the city in 1820. Her Palazzo Ercolani (now Palazzo Grazioli in Via del Plebiscito) was soon to house a rich collection of paintings and objets d'art, including in particular a painting commissioned from Vincenzo Camuccini depicting Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, which the artist is likely to have completed in 1821 (Carloni, p. 83) and which now hangs in the Palazzo Ducale in Lucca.
Camuccini may have produced the drawing under discussion here upon delivering the painting, so as to keep a memento of it. Camuccini's shrewd and careful management of his own artistic output was a characteristic feature of the artist's personality. His workshop contained models and replicas of every work he produced, allowing him to respond promptly to requests even for reproductions of paintings that had left the premises many years before (see Giacomini). For example, he painted a second version of the portrait of Maria Luisa de Bourbon in 1824, the year of her death, in response to a request from the Duchess of Osuna. (Piantoni, p. 100; Hiesinger, p. 319)

The portrait of Maria Luisa of Bourbon belongs to a style typical of both French and Italian portraiture in the Neo-Classical era, which took its cue from models found in the painting of Pompeii. Initially adopted by Jean Louis David, the style was to consolidate with numerous portraits of the Napoleonic aristocracy painted by such artists as Gros, Fabre and especially Gérard, and of course in the work of Canova. The style, typically adopted for female portraits, tends to show the sitter seated in a three-quarter pose, in a relaxed or contemplative mood, her legs stretched out and generally resting on a cushion or on a footstool, in an environment depicted down to the smallest detail of decoration and furniture, yet always imbued with a sophisticated sense of unfussy simplicity. Camuccini adopted this compositional pattern in his portraits of numerous European aristocratic ladies such as the Princess of Partanna Lucia Migliaccio, Princess Alexandra Dietrichstein, Countess Clementina Ostrowska and Countess Kotschoubey. Elegance, composure and a noble carriage characterise all of these portraits, in which one is struck, if anything, by the repetetive nature of the pattern. While this may point on the one hand to a will, possibly expressed by the sitter herself, to subscribe to a now codified type, almost as a mark of her membership of a social and cultural élite, it may also be due to the impatience of Camuccini who, as his biographer Carlo Falconieri tells us, began to devote his energies to portraiture fairly late in life and with little enthusiasm, "remaining convinced that it distracted him from his great work and ate into the time that he had available to him to study composition" (Falconieri, p. 222).

                                                                                                                                                              Federica Giacomini


Rosella Carloni, La collezione di dipinti di Maria Luisa di Borbone, duchessa di Lucca, in «Paragone. Arte», a. LI, n. 603, III/31, May 2000, pp. 79-96

Carlo Falconieri, Vita di Vincenzo Camuccini, Rome 1875

Federica Giacomini, L’atelier di Vincenzo Camuccini in via dei Greci, in La pittura di storia in Italia, 1785-1870. Ricerche, quesiti, proposte, edited by G. Capitelli and C. Mazzarelli, pp. 47-57

Ulrich Hiesinger, The paintings of Vincenzo Camuccini, in «Art Bulletin», XL/2, June 1978, pp. 297-320

Gianna Piantoni De Angelis, Vincenzo Camuccini (1771-1844): bozzetti e disegni dallo studio dell'artista, Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, 27 October – 31 December 1978, Rome 1978

Sandra Pinto, Cultura neoclassica e romantica nella Toscana granducale, Florence 1972

Alessandro Tosi, Pietro Nocchi, in “Recensir col tratto”. Disegni di Bernardino e Pietro Nocchi, in «Quaderni dei Musei Lucchesi», exhibition catalogue, Lucca 18 March – 31 May 1989, pp. 73-105