The Cradle of the King of Rome

Marie-Louise and her son the King of Rome, Napoleon II by Francois Gérard with the second Imperial Cradle now at Fontainebleau

Napoleon François Joseph Charles was born March 20,1811 at Tuileries Palace in Paris. The only legitimate son of Napoleon I (1769-1821) he was known as LAiglon, the Eaglet, and had the title King of Rome (1811-1814) conferred on him at his birth. His mother was Marie Louise (1791-1847), daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (later Emperor of Austria as Francis I.) who belonged to one of the oldest families of Europe, the Habsburgs. She married Napoleon I on April 2, 1810. The French were delighted when it was announced Marie Louise was with child. On March 20th of 1811 the child was born in Tuileries Palace. The people of France awaited the canon fire announcing the event: twenty one shots if a daughter, one hundred one for a son. At the twenty second shot cheers burst out; Napoleon had a son. The child slept in a magnificent cradle produced by the collaboration of Thomire, Odiot, and Prud'hon. A delighted Napoleon gave a 275-carat diamond necklace (shown in the portrait at left) to Empress Marie Louise to celebrate the birth of their son. In 1816, after Waterloo Marie Louise left her five year old son in the care of her father, Emperor Francis I, in Austria. She traveled to Italy to take possesion of her Duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla, which had been awarded to her at the Congress of Vienna. Marie Louise and her lover Count Adam Adalbert von Neipperg (1775-1829) lived a life of dissipated pleasures at her court in Parma. Napoleon II died of tuberculosis at 21 on August 22, 1832 at Schönbrunn Palace in Austria.

Thomire, Pierre-Philippe (1751-1843)
He was the outstanding Empire Fondeur-doreur. Thomire was much patronized by Napoleon, who made him Ciseleur de l'Empereur. His works include some of the finest and purest expressions of the Empire style, including the Vase de Mariage de l'Empereur (Versailles) and other vast Greek-shaped urns delicately modelled with crisp foliage and figures in low relief and candelabra supported by winged victories. In 1811 he collaborated with the silversmith Odiot in making the celebrated cradle for the King of Rome (designed by Proud'hon, on display in the Schatzkammer or The Royal Treasury in Vienna) and the bronzes for another Imperial cradle (shown in the painting above and now on display at Fontainebleau). He also collaborated frequently with Weisweiler during this period (1809-11), making bronze mounts for his furniture, notably that for Caroline Murat (1782-1839) (Palazzo Reale, Naples).

Odiot, Jean Baptiste Claude (b 8 June 1763; d 23 May 1850),
The superb French silversmith and cabinetmaker. Born a member of a prominent family of silversmiths active from the early 18th century. He became a master in 1785. The only surviving work by him dating from before the French Revolution (1789-1795) is a coffee urn (Monticello, VA, Jefferson Foundation) designed and commissioned by Thomas Jefferson. Odiot's career as a silversmith essentially began in 1802 when he was awarded a gold medal in the third Exposition de l'Industrie in Paris. He executed a travelling service (c. 1795-1809) for Napoleon. Odiot's most complex work was a set of dressing-table furniture made for Empress Marie Louise in 1810 (destroyed 1832) and the cradle for the King of Rome in 1811 (now in Vienna) made in collaboration with Thomire to a design by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon.

 cradle for the King of Rome

Pierre Paul Prud'hon (1758-1823)
One of 10 children of a stone cutter in Cluny, the young Prud'hon's talent quickly became apparent. At the age of 16 he went to study at Dijon under Francois Devosge, and entered the Royal Academy in 1776. After winning the Prix de Rome in 1784, he stayed in Italy until 1788, absorbing the lessons of antiquity. In 1791 he began exhibiting at the Paris Salon. His classical draftsmanship made him the foremost master of the female figure. He gained the favor of Napoleon himself, serving as portraitist to both Empress Josephine and Marie-Louise, as well as instructing them in drawing. Prudhon is noted for his subtle use of light and shadow, derived in part from his admiration for the Italian masters, especially Correggio. His work reveals a tender and poetic quality, especially evident in his portrait of Empress Josephine (Louvre). He is best known for his huge allegorical paintings like Truth Descending from the Heavens Led by Wisdom painted in 1796 (Louvre) and Love Seduces Innocence. Prud'hon painted Venus and Adonis in 1810 for the Empress Marie-Louise, who is said to have been the model.

One of Prud'hon's most splendid commissions was to design the apartments of the new empress, Marie-Louise, in Tuileries Palace. For the bridal suite of the Empress Marie-Louise he designed all the furniture and interior decorations in a Greek Revival style. He also designed a cradle for the King of Rome, Napoleon's only legitimate son. The eaglet at the foot of the cradle is symbolically not yet able to fly, but glory-bound. "Glory" represented by the star with his father's capital N is raised high above the head of the cradle by winged Victory.

Read more about: Napoleon & Marie Louise: The Emperor's Second Wife by Alan Warwick Palmer.

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