- Museum number
Gold box, of oval shape, set with a painted miniature of Napoleon on ivory within a narrow gold rim engraved and chased with a foliate frieze and edged with blue enamel, and an outer border of 28 diamonds in silver settings on a chased matt ground. The sides of the box decorated with a band of engraved foliate ornament, the background enamelled dark blue, with further square panels of similar enamelled ornament alternating with oblong gold panels of engine-turned ornament with a pattern of circles, edged with a line of blue enamel. The base with similar border of engraved ornament incorprating cornucopiae, on a blue ground, the centre with all-over engine-turned pattern as on sides, the raised parts between each circle with cross cuts. The box made of red gold with yellow gold for the exterior decoration.
Presented by Napoleon on 1st May 1815 to the Hon. Anne Seymour Damer, sculptress, on receiving from her a bust of Charles James Fox, promised to him at the time of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.
An engraved gold oval plaque inside the box records its history:
'THIS BOX WAS GIVEN BY / The Emperor Napoleon of France / TO THE / HONORABLE ANNE SEYMOUR DAMER . / as a "souvenir" / (the word he used) / In consequence of her having presented him with / A Bust of Mr. Fox. executed in Marble by herself. / The Bust had been promised at the Peace of Amiens / was finished 1812. & sent to France where it remained / but was not presented till May 1st 1815 when by command of / His Imperial Majesty / ANNE SEYMOUR DAMER / had an audience for that purpose. / AT THE PALAIS ELYSÉE WHERE THE EMPEROR THEN RESIDED.'
- Production date
- 1815 (before)
Length: 8.30 centimetres
Thickness: 2 centimetres
Width: 5.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- The signature on the painted miniature is for Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Duchesne de Gisors (1770-1856), a miniature painter who exhibited at the Salon 1802-42. The use of different colours of gold in the manufacture of the box provides a subtle contrast, exploiting the need for the harder higher carat yellow gold for the engine-turning. The portrait is based on a full-length by Robert Lefèvre of which several versions survive, including one in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris (the first version, of 1809, with the red sash beneath the jacket), one in Apsley House, London (1812, with the red sash over the jacket, as here) and one in the Museo Napoleonico, Cuba.
Diplomatic gifts were as important for Napoleon as any other ruler and during his first year as Consul he directed that “the customary present from the French government to foreign ministes witll be a gold box …decorated with diamonds” (Directive of 7 Thermidor, Year VIII). Prices for different levels of recipients were originally capped at sums between 5,000 and 15,000 francs, but during the Empire more than 30,000 francs was spent on the most important gifts (for further information, see Karine Huguenaud, "The Emperor's presentation boxes", in "Napoleon: Revolution to Empire", exhibition catalgoue, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2012, pp.202-03.
On Tuesday May 2nd 1815, John Cam Hobhouse recorded the following in his diary: "... called on Mrs Damer, who gave an account of an interview she had yesterday with Napoleon.
Three years ago she sent a bust of Mr Fox by herself to Paris for the Emperor. The man who brought it got into disgrace - the bust was not delivered. She comes to Paris just as Napoleon comes, and contrives to find her bust, which is unaltered except that the inscription, Napoleon Empereur et Roi, is scratched out. She contrives to get it presented through Denon - she is at first mistaken for an artist who wants to sell it - the appointment was for the Elysé́e Napoleon at ten - she goes there, and waits till twelve, when she is shown through a dark passage into a room in which she finds Napoleon standing at a table, on which stood the bust. The Queen of Holland [Hortense de Beauharnais, Napoleon's stepdaughter] was standing at a little distance. Napoleon received her very graciously; he said the bust not only showed the face of Mr Fox, but the mind: "It was the man". He praised the original, said had he lived much blood would have been saved.
He talked of his own pictures - Mrs Damer told him she had seen none like him. He asked if she had seen Canova's naked statue - she said yes, but did not think it resembling, nor good - "You are right," he said. He asked her opinion of David - they talked ten minutes - he asked her to what family she belonged - she said the chief of her father and mother's were the Dukes of Argyle and Somerset. This, she said, he contrived to ask to do away the mistake respecting her trade in marble. He asked about the story of the Duke of Bedford - knew his name was Russell. The Queen Hortense spoke not at all. She (Mrs Damer) curtsied backwards out of the room. Napoleon asked her when she came to Paris. She answered, "About the same time as your Majesty". He smiled, and added, "N'avez-vous pas peur de moi?" to which she answered, "Non, Sire - les grands hommes n'effrayent pas", an answer with which he was satisfied, and which was passable for Sappho." (petercochran.files.wordpress.com; accessed 18 February 2014)
The exchange of gifts is also mentioned in the memoirs of Louis Marchand, Napoleon's valet: "L'Empereur avait fait mettre dans son salon le buste de Fox que lui avait envoyé Mme Damer. Cette dame reçut en échange une tabatière ornée du portrait de l’Empereur entouré de diamants." (Marchand, Louis, Mémoires de Marchand : premier valet de chambre et exécuteur testamentaire de l'empereur Napoléon, ed Jean Bourguignon and Henry Lachouque, Paris: Tallendier, 2003, p.2120)
See also S. O'Connell, 'Bonaparte and the British', exhibition catalogue, British Museum, 2015.
- On display (G47/dc5)
- Exhibition history
2015 Feb-Aug, BM, Rm 90, Bonaparte and the British
- Associated events
- Associated Event: Treaty of Amiens 1802
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1828,1108.1 (Donations Register)