2 marble tondos in a molded wooden frame
Napoléon III, his wife Eugénia de Montijo and their son Napoléon Louis Bonaparte
Allegory of the restoration of the Empire
diameter 38 cm each
Signed and dated: 1859 / p. Ubaudi sculp. Lyon
Mentioned in an off-hand way by the major dictionaries, and ignored even in the recent work by Alfonso Panzetta on the sculptors active in Piedmont in the 19th century (2008), Ubaudi was active as a restorer working on the renovation of monumental tombs in the cathedral of Rouen and the Hôtel de Ville of Lyon; the La Martinière school, also in Lyon, holds a bust attributed to him.
These two tondos are to date the only
independent inventions ascribable with certainty to the artist, and are also interesting because
they are mentioned in archive documents demonstrating that on two separate occasions, in
1859 and in 1860, Ubaudi proposed their sale to the Louvre, though he was turned down on
both occasions. The two pieces, then, were made on the sculptor’s own initiative, not in response
to a specific commission. In the documents the subjects of the reliefs are described as L’Empereur Napoléon III et l’Impératrice assise debout tenant le Prince Impérial devant elle and Le Triomphe de l’ordre en 1852.
The first tondo, then, basically celebrated the imperial lineage, assured in
1856 by the birth of what was to be Napoleon III’s only son. The second, by contrast, was an
allegory of the Restoration of the Empire in 1852, with a figure iconographically comparable
to Fame crowning the portrait of Napoleon III in a tondo, taken up to heaven in the presence
of three figures, a man and two women. The latter are probably to be identified as Napoleon I,
the first Emperor of France, and perhaps as Josephine de Beuharnais, Napoleon’s first wife, and Hortense de Beauharnais, Napoleon III’s mother: together the two reliefs thus took the form of
a broad celebration of imperial descent from Napoleon I to the heir-designate, Eugene Louis
Executed with skill and undeniably fine workmanship, the two Médaillons (the term used
in the aforementioned documents) may not have found favour with contemporaries in part
because of the ‘modernist’ style adopted by their creator: the late 1840s saw a heated debate
over the bas-reliefs designed to decorate the grave of Napoleon I in the church of the Invalides.
The view that it was appropriate to depict the emperor in ancient Roman costume prevailed, as
we see in the marbles later made by Pierre-Charles Simart by 1853.3
In Ubaudi’s medallions,
however, the contrast between the contemporary garments worn by the family of Napoleon III and the iconography based on imperial triumphs in the second of the two bas-reliefs might seem to conflict.