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  • image P154
SM P154. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photo: Art UK

Francesco Cossia (fl. 1797)

Portrait of Napoleon Buonaparte in his 29th year painted at Verona, 1797


Oil on canvas, glued to wood panel

Height: 17.5cm
Width: 14.4cm
Depth (panel): 1.2cm

Museum number: P154

On display: Breakfast Room
All spaces are in No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields unless identified as in No. 12, Soane's first house. For tours https://www.soane.org/your-visit

Curatorial note

A letter from the art dealer Francesco Ricardi in Milan dated 26 March 1797 addressed to Maria Cosway describes the artist as a 'very well known painter ... who lives in Verona'. This letter, with another from the artist, accompanied the painting to London in 1797 (see Salomon and Woodward, 2005).

The correspondence sets out when and under what circumstances the picture was painted. Napoleon sat for the portrait while he was on the road between Verona and Vienna in March 1797, and Cossia sketched in pencil directly onto canvas in the young general’s campaign tent, even sitting in on one of the his briefings in order to finish the head. He apologised to Cosway for the rough nature of the painting, stating “I did my best, and as much as circumstances would allow.”

This work is one of the earliest known portraits of Napoleon and was one of the first portraits of Bonaparte to come to England.

Provenance help-art-provenance

A letter from the artist to Signor Borghini, acquired by Soane with the picture, explains that it was commissioned by a lady, not named but optimistically identified by Soane as the Empress Josephine. A second letter indicates that it was in fact commissioned by Maria Cosway in 1797, through the art dealer Francesco Ricardi, based in Milan. It is this letter which clearly identifies the artist as a 'Sig. Cossia'. The picture was in Soane's collection by 1830 when Soane's refers to it in his Description; it is not mentioned by Britton in 1827. As Maria Cosway and Soane were friends it seems likely that the picture was a gift from her to Soane.


Soane, Description, 1830, p.2 and pp.35-36
Soane, Description, 1835, p.49-52 and 54
Salomon. X. F., and Woodward. C., 'How England First Saw Bonaparte', Apollo, October 2005, pp.52-61
Nelson and Napoleon, exhibition catalogue, National Maritime Museum, London, 2005
New Description (guidebook, Sir John Soane's Museum), 2007, p.73
Tim Clayton and Sheila O'Connell, Bonaparte and the British: prints and propoganda in the age of Napoleon, British Museum (exhibition catalogue), 2015, pp.54-55 (cat.2).

Exhibition history

Nelson and Napoleon, National Maritime Museum, London, 7 July - 13 November 2005
Napoleon und Europa: Traum und Trauma, Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn, 17 December 2010 - 25 April 2011
Peace Breaks Out! London and Paris in the Summer of 1814, Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 20 June - 13 September 2014
Bonaparte and the British: Prints and Propaganda in the Age of Napoleon, The British Museum, London, 5 February - 16 August 2015

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