- Museum number
Gold snuff-box, rectangular, the lid set with a classical oval agate cameo of Bacchus seated on a goat nibbling at a vine branch, the cameo in white and pale brown layers, the background transparent; the rest of the gold lid chased with vine branches and Bacchic emblems: crossed thyrsi, cup, pan pipes, etc, within a blue enamel border. The sides of the box with band of engraved foliate ornament with thyrsi on dark blue enamel ground, a band of engine-turned geometric ornament with lozenge pattern and at the base a thin blue enamel border with crosses reserved in the gold. A hinge at the front of the lid enables the upper part of the lid to lift up and reveal a second transparent oval agate plaque let into the gold to allow the reflection from the gold base to shine through the cameo and give it a darker more contrasting ground so that it is easier to read, while the whole lid lifts from a second hinge at the back. The base with border of engraved gold foliage, thyrsi and paterae, the centre with all-over engine-turning in the same pattern as on the sides of the box. The box is in red gold with yellow gold for the exterior. Maker's marks inside the box.
Bequeathed to Lady Holland by Napoleon in 1821, the cameo presented to Napoleon by Pope Pius VI in 1797. The box contains a piece of playing card cut from a seven of diamonds inscribed to Lady Holland in Napoleon's own hand: 'Lempereur Napoleon a Lady Holland temoignage de satisfaction et destime'. The reverse of the playing card is annotated: 'Camée antique donné par le Pape Pie VI a Tolentino en 1797'.
A later explanatory card with the box, written by Lady Holland's son, Charles R Fox, reads: 'This snuff box was left by the first Emperor Napoleon to my mother Lady Holland in 1821 in grateful remembrance of her sending him many comforts to St Helena. It had been presented to him by the Pope Pius. VI. after the peace signed at Tolentino in Febry 1797. Charles R Fox General. Addison Road 12. Novr 1864'. The reverse, in the same hand, reads: 'This Card is written to be placed with the Snuff Box in the B. Museum. The Cameo on which is a very Fine Antique 12 Novr 1864 C R Fox'.
Also with the card from C.R. Fiox are two manuscript sheets, annotated in a different hand, '[Letter from S.G. Perceval Esqre, Henbury, Bristol, 1904 (April 21) with reference to Forsyth's History of the Captivity of Napoleon, vol.III, p. 298]'. The two sheets have no addressee or signature so were presumably separate enclosures.
- Production date
1stC-2ndC (cameo (?))
Length: 7.20 centimetres
Thickness: 2 centimetres
Width: 5.20 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- The use of different colours of gold provides a subtle contrast, exploiting the need for the harder higher carat yellow gold for the engine-turning.
Lady Holland was the first person named in Napoleon's will after members of his family. He wrote: 'Je lègue à Lady Holland le Camée antique que le Pape Pius 6 m'a donné à Tolentino'. (see Extract from Napoleon's Will, Department of Prints & Drawings Letter Book 1802-1847, f.11) There is no mention of the box, which Napoleon must have commissioned for the cameo some years earlier. Sgnificantly it was the gift of the cameo from the Pope that mattered to him and which he wished to pass on to Lady Holland. On hearing of the bequest, the elderly Earl of Carlisle, who had supported the wars with the French from the Revolution onwards, published a protest in the 'Gentleman's Magazine', November 1821:
Lady, reject the gift, 'tis tinged with gore!
Those crimson spots a dreadful tale relate.
It has been grasped by an infernal power,
And by that hand - which seal'd young Enghien's fate
To this, Byron responded:
Lady, accept the box a hero wore,
In spite of all this elegiac stuff:
let not seven stanzas written by a bore,
Prevent your ladyship from taking snuff !
For the legacy of the box to Lady Holland and the full text of the verses by the Earl of Carlisle and others, see 'The Spirit of Public Journals for the Year 1823, being an Impartial Selection of the most Exquisite Essays . . . . by Cruickshank', London 1825, p. 226, and Susanne Schmid, 'British Literary Salons of the late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries, New York, 2013. S.G. Perceval, who sent the Carlisle verses, is Spencer George Perceval (1838-1922) antiquary and geologist of Henbury, Gloucestershire.
For further detailed discussion of the box see T. Clayton and S. O'Connell, 'Bonaparte and the British: prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon', exhibition catalogue, London, British Museum, 2015. cat. no. 158.
For an etching of this box, probably an illustration from a book, see 1866,0210.462.
- On display (G47/dc5)
- Exhibition history
2015 Feb-Aug, BM, Rm 90, Bonaparte and the British
2021 20 May-19 Sep, Paris, Musee de l'Armee, Napoleon
- Minor restoration to dark blue enamel rim in 1990.
- Associated events
- Associated Event: Treaty of Tolentino 1787
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number