The NGV worked in collaboration with The Foundation of Napoleon in Paris to lend more than 100 of its greatest treasures to the winter exhibition. Some exhibits were already housed in Australia.
On exhibit is the full replica suite of the legendary Empire Jewellery that was presented to Napoleon’s second wife, Empress Marie-Louise. The replica is made of gold, silver, white sapphires, diamonds and garnets (in place of rubies) and was recreated in 1911 by the luxury French jewellery house, Chaumet, as the original suite was damaged beyond repair from wear and tear by subsequent heirs.
A personal gold bracelet worn by Napoleon’s mother, Maria Letitia Ramolino Bonaparte, is also on exhibit. The piece is acrostic in that it spells her name ‘Letitia’ by using semiprecious stones, which are used in succession – Lapis Lazuli, Emerald, Turquoise, Idocrasio, Tourmaline, Ialino (Hyaline) and Amethyst. It has been loaned by the Napoleonic Museum in Rome (Museo Napoleonico).
The 300-piece exhibition titled ‘Napoleon: Revolution to Empire’, has opened at National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV).
The exhibition includes other luxury items such as an impressive collection of furniture, paintings and ornaments. Also on display are Napoleon’s uniforms, decorative weaponry and trademark hat, as well as his first wife’s (Josephine) jewellery, books and silverware, all of which showcase the power-couple’s status and wealth.
The exhibition explores the strong cultural and scientific links that existed between Australia and France between the 1770s to the 1820s, including Josephine’s fascination with Australia following the publication of Captain Cook’s explorations.
Showcased in books and maps is information that was collected on an 1805 voyage that Napoleon funded to chart the southern Australian coastline we now know as Victoria, which was then named ‘Terre Napoleon’ (Napoleon Land).
The Bonaparte’s home, Chateau de Malmaison, an estate just outside Paris, held kangaroos, emus and other Australian wildlife including black swans. Josephine’s fascination with Australian flora and fauna led her to become the first person to breed Australian black swans in captivity; she also introduced the wattle and eucalyptus to France from the thousands of specimens brought back from the legendary Baudin voyages to Australia. All flora and fauna still thrive in France today.
More information: Napoleon: Revolution to Empire exhibition will run up until October 7, 2012, daily from 10am – 5pm and until 9pm every Wednesday.