A SARDONYX PORTRAIT CAMEO, SIGNED BY MORELLI, CIRCA 1810

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Lot 29
A SARDONYX PORTRAIT CAMEO, SIGNED BY MORELLI, CIRCA 1810

£ 15,000 - 20,000
US$ 18,000 - 24,000
A SARDONYX PORTRAIT CAMEO, SIGNED BY MORELLI, CIRCA 1810
Depicting a lady in profile, facing left, wearing a wreath in her upswept curling hair, mounted as a brooch with a half-pearl border, wreath is chipped, inscribed Morelli in the field, French assay mark, pearls untested, diameters 6.0cm x 4.9cm

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Marie-Antoinette de Séroka (1878-1967)
    By descent to the present owner

    This cameo is believed to be a portrait of Marie Laczinska, Countess Walewska, (1786-1817), a Polish noblewoman and mistress of Napoleon Bonaparte, who bore him a son in 1810. This is confirmed in a letter written in 1835, in the current ownership of the family: A Louis, Je vous donne le camée de Marie Laczinscka. Ce fut un présent de l'Empereur, V de Seroka. ("To Louis, I give you the cameo by Marie Laczinscka cousin of your father. It was a present from the Emperor. V de Seroka").

    The 'V' is Vincente de Seroka, widow of Albert Comte de Seroka (1767-1826) Polish captain of the 3rd regiment of the Royal Guard, knight of the royal and military order of Saint Louis and of the Royal order of the legion d'honneur. The countess is writing to her son Louis Joseph Martin count of Seroka (1806-1873) and the brooch was probably a gift on the birth of his grandson Albert Jean Louis born in 1834 or 1835. Albert Jean Louis was the father of Marie-Antoinette: Aunt Manette.

    Marie first met Napoleon in 1806-7 who was attracted by her great beauty. She in turn was encouraged to start an affair with the French Emperor as an act of patriotism; to gain his support for Poland in the country's struggle to regain independence from Prussia and the Hapsburg and Russian Empires. The woman portrayed in this cameo is certainly beautiful and appears individualised rather than an idealised classical type. The spray of olives in her hair could allude to Marie's patriotism and desire that Napoleon's victories would bring peace to her beloved Poland.

    Nicolo Morelli (1771-1838) was renowned for his cameo portraits. He was one of Benedetto Pistrucci's first teachers and in 1812 was admitted to the Accademia di San Luca. His most important clients included Francis I of Austria and Count Sommariva but it is as the favourite - virtually official - engraver of Napoleon I and the Bonaparte family that he is best known.

    For Nicolo Morelli and his Bonaparte portraits, see L. Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, 'Nicola Morelli, incisore in pietre dure, Academico di merito di S.Luca, Virtuoso del Pantheon, Bollettino dei Musei Communali di Roma, VI, 1992 pp. 63-76.
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