Dimensions: Height: 32.2 (closed ) / 32.2 (open ) / 31 ( Case)
Width: 33.2 (open )
Diameter: 6.3 (closed ) / 5.1 (open ) / 4 ( Case)
On binding “DONNE PAR SA MAJESTE / L’EMPEREUR ET ROI / AU MARECHAL LANNES / DUC DE MONTEBELLO” (“GIVEN BY HIS MAJESTY / EMPEROR AND KING / TO MARSHAL LANNES / DUKE OF MONTEBELLO”) presence of a label on the inside of the sleeve receptacle, black ink “Garnesson / Palais Royal”
Description: Message campaign writing case in red morocco, closed with a green ribbon. The exterior of the case is decorated with a bee, seedlings, and an inscription recording the donation of the Emperor to Marshal Lannes. The space reserved for writing and for the signing of documents is decorated with a border of palmettos. A single “N” stands in each of the four corners of this surface. The existence of ink stains on the support demonstrates its use. The rigid round cover with four compartments is still present in the receptacle of the writing case. It contains two writing tools: its inkwell and powder compact in silver metal.
We know that the friendship between Napoleon and Marshal Lannes was both long-standing and sincere. On the death of the Marshal in 1809, the Emperor felt that he had lost a friend but also a confidant. This gift demonstrates once again the strength of their relationship. Before he gave it to his old comrade, the writing case was used for orders written by Napoleon during military manoeuvres or in the heat of the fighting. An escort or an Emperor’s aide always kept such a writing case with him, ready to unfold it if necessary. It sometimes happened that it was deployed on the back of the messenger himself or on that of another military officer. All that mattered was the speed of execution, as we know from the famous words of Napoleon: “I prefer to lose a battle rather than one minute.” In this respect, it is not surprising that the Emperor had wanted to encourage the use of this epistolary device by offering it to one of his close friends. Thus equipped, the marshal no longer had an excuse for not responding immediately to the impatient missives of his sovereign.
As with everything around Napoleon, the writing case was finely executed by the craftsmen of the time. Indeed, each everyday object was designed to be a reminder of the majesty and grandeur of the new regime, a rule as valid at the Tuileries as it was on campaign. The visible ink stains on the writing case show that, despite their beauty and quality, such accessories were indeed used regularly. Consequently, they were also designed in a practical way as evidenced by the ingenuity of the writing desk. The imperial pomp should never be an obstacle to efficiency. Here we can see the hallmark of Napoleon’s careful pragmatism. Indeed, what could he have not done if he had had one of our modern electronic tablets, the distant descendant of this writing case?
Head of Heritage Department, Fondation Napoléon