Elisa Baciocchi, née Elisa Bonaparte, was the eldest of Napoleon’s three sisters, who all became imperial princesses after their brother’s coronation. Elisa was born in 1777 in Ajaccio, and she married army officer Félix Baciocchi in 1797. In 1805, she became Princess of Piombino and Lucca, then Grand-Duchess of Tuscany in 1809. Her arrival in Tuscany attracted a growing number of French people, who, together with the Italians, formed a Court around their new ruler, similar to the one at the Tuileries. Joseph Franque probably painted this portrait of Elisa and another one of Félix during his visit to Florence around 1812.
Joseph Franque here depicts the young ruler in a bust portrait against an ochre background. She is wearing a dark blue bodice with gold embroidery and a gauze collar, topped with a purple shawl edged with a floral design. On her head is a tiara set with a diamond, gemstones and a cameo, and in her left hand she is holding a notebook.
In this naturalistic portrait, the artist depicts Elisa as being more ‘homely’ than her sister Pauline, whose beauty was renowned throughout the Empire. On show here is Princess Elisa the political ruler (she had reformed the clergy and founded charities) and cultural leader. She was a friend of the arts and supported the “Académie des Marbres de Carrare”. She also founded a “Banque élisienne” (The Elisa Bank) and an academy directed by sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini, where Franque became Professor of Drawing in 1813. At the fall of the Great-Duchy, Franque moved to Naples where he put himself (briefly) in the service of Caroline Bonaparte, who had married Joachim Murat.
In March 1814, Elisa was forced into exile, residing in France, Italy (Bologna) and Austria (Gratz, with her brother Jérôme), before finally being permitted to live permanently in Bologna.
As a consequence of her brother’s return from Elba in March 1815, she was put under house arrest in Austria until March 1816, whereupon she was permitted to move to Trieste, where she died in 1820, aged 43.
Joseph Franque (1774-1833) was the twin brother of Jean-Pierre Franque (1774-1860), also a famous painter of the beginning of the nineteenth century (Allegory on the state of France before the return from Egypt). Both were pupils of David.