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Object details

Countess Rattazzi, née Maria-Laetitia Bonaparte-Wyse
91,2 × 49 × 48 cm, 120kg
Inventory number: 

More about this work

In the 19th century wealthy women loved to be immortalised in portraits. They either paid an artist to do so, or persuaded their rich husbands to, as Countess Rattazzi, née Maria-Laetitia Bonaparte-Wyse, did. There are two portraits of her to be admired in the KMSKA: this white marble bust and a lifesize oil painting by Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran (inv. no. 1380).
The sculptor Jean-Baptiste Clésinger, also known as Auguste Clésinger, was entrusted with the task of making the marble portrait. The young Jean-Baptiste had his first sculpture lessons in the studio of his father, Georges Philippe Clésinger. In 1832 he travelled to Rome, where he completed his training with the celebrated sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and the architect Gaspare Salvi. In the 1840s he commuted between Florence and Switzerland before finally settling in Paris in 1845. Two years later he had a succès de scandale with his entry to the Paris Salon. His Woman bitten by a serpent (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, inv. no. RF 2053) shows a reclining nude woman writhing in pain after being bitten by a snake, which in the eyes of the public was nothing less than the scandalous depiction of the female orgasm. The model was Appolonie Sabatier, a famous salon hostess and courtesan and the muse of Charles Baudelaire. At a blow this controversial showpiece established Clésinger’s name as a sensual sculptor and masterly artist.
When, in 1865, the 33 or 34-year-old Countess Rattazzi, née Maria-Laetitia Bonaparte-Wyse (1831-1902) wanted to immortalise herself in marble, it was almost foreordained that she would seek out the very talented Jean-Baptiste Clésinger to do so. He portrayed the countess and literary hostess as a fashionable aristocrat, bedecked with insignia and jewels that accentuated her status, and at the same time as a sensual woman, refined and imperious, her long hair perfectly dressed, the gown daring, the pose challenging. Although Clésinger had been classically trained and took his example from the ancients and Michelangelo, his work also has a degree of experimentation and modernity in subject and technique. Striking features of this monumental portrait bust are on the one hand the precise detailing and the lavish imitation of fabrics, and on the other hand the suggestive sensuality of the woman’s pose and expression.
Two years after her marriage to Urbano Rattazzi, Maria-Laetitia had herself portrayed as a radiant countess. She is posing in a beautiful evening gown with bare shoulders and holds a fur-lined stole wrapped around her. Each of the shoulder straps of her gown is adorned with a cameo, the one on the right with a portrait of Urbano Rattazzi, and the one on the left with a profile portrait of Maria-Laetitia herself, an unmistakable allusion to her status as the wife of Count Rattazzi. The roses in her hand, the smile playing around the corners of her mouth and the twinkle in her eyes complete the image of a happily married woman.

Acquisition history

bequest of: Maria-Laetitia Bonaparte-Wyse, 1902

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