The Commonplace Book of Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma

Image of an open manuscript book with a red cover

Contributor: Diego Saglia and Francesca Sandrini

Location: Salone delle Feste, tavolo 3; Museo Glauco Lombardi, Parma.

Description: This object, a commonplace book, speaks to a number of questions: What did a European female ruler from the Romantic period read? And how did she respond to the works? And was this reading also a creative, ‘writerly’ act?

Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla from the Congress of Vienna (1814/15) to her death in 1847, was a keen reader who kept several diaries, akin both to English commonplace books and the French practice of extraits et mélanges. There she transcribed longer and shorter extracts from the books she read, as well as her own observations and reflections. This commonplace book in our exhibition is the most significant and representative of them. This kind of artefact was in fact a relatively common phenomenon among women (and men) of the middle and upper classes all around Europe; yet, this specific example offers insights into a woman whose life blended public and private aspects, officialdom and intimacy, in peculiar and significant ways. Mixing reading and writing, reception and creation, Marie Louise’s commonplace book may be argued to be ultimately a vehicle for authoring both one’s own book and, in turn, one’s own Romantic self.

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A Farm called ‘Maloi Jaroslawitz’, or, A Dutch Melancholy Hussar

Image of a farmhouse with a high hedge in front of it.

Contributor: Asker Pelgrom

Location: along the provincial road N330 between Hummelo and Zelhem (The Netherlands), 52°00’25.1″N 6°15’12.8″E

Description: In the rural area of the Achterhoek, in the eastern part of the Netherlands, along the provincial road between the villages of Hummelo and Zelhem, travellers encounter a nineteenth-century farmhouse carrying a fascinating legend: ’18 Maloï Jaroslawitz 60’. To military historians, this name immediately rings a bell: it refers to the battle of Maloyaroslavets that took place on the 24th of October 1814, between the Russian army commanded by Marshal Kutusov and parts of the corps of Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s stepson, under General Delzons. Five days earlier, Napoleon had evacuated Moscow and marched south with his Grande Armée, De Beauharnais leading the advance. The bloody battle (10.000 casualties) ended in victory for the mainly French and Italian forces. However, Kutusov’s deliberate retreat forced Napoleon northward, a direction he had wished to avoid. We all know the dramatic outcome. In a way, Maloyaroslavets thus marked the beginning of the end of the Grande Armée. But why does a rural farmhouse in the Netherlands carry this name? And why do many other farms in the same area bear other names that refer to Napoleon’s Russian campaign and the battles fought in its aftermath: Jena (1851), Bautzen (1852), Lützen (1854), Montmirail (1856, since 1943 called Grevenkamp), Beresina (1857), Düben (1858) and Briënne (1860)? The colours of the painted shutters point to the answer.

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The Junot-Wellington Watch

Image of a the front and back of a pocket watch, gold on one side, platinum on the other

Contributor: Jorge Bastos da Silva

Location: Casa-Museu Medeiros e Almeida, Lisbon

Description: This state-of-the-art pocket watch was commissioned by General Jean-Andoche Junot, the commander of the first invasion of Portugal by Napoleon’s armies, from the famous Swiss clockmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. After Junot’s death, the watch was sold back to Breguet and eventually came into possession of Junot’s enemy, the Duke of Wellington, as a gift from a comrade-in-arms. The watch thus suffered radical repurposing by a roundabout way, becoming a virtual war trophy. Its story points to the relevance of tracing the transit of objects to understanding the social and material culture of the Romantic period.

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The Cadiz Bomb

Location: Horse Guards, London, United Kingdom

Contributor: Ian Haywood

Description: This strange-looking, even kitsch object stands in a corner of Horse Guards, next to St James’s Park in London. For all its garish and even comic appearance, it is actually Britain’s only public monument to the Peninsular war. It was first unveiled in 1816, but its genesis began in 1812 with the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Salamanca. One consequence of this battle was that Napoleonic forces withdrew from the two-year siege of Cadiz, seat of the Spanish Cortes and the new liberal constitution. To celebrate this liberation, the Cortes gave a huge French mortar as a gift to the Prince Regent (later George IV), requesting only that it be displayed in a public place. The Prince duly obliged and commissioned the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich to build a suitable carriage. Four years and an immense expenditure later, the Cadiz ‘bomb’, as it soon became known, was shown to the public on the Prince’s birthday. Continue reading “The Cadiz Bomb”

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