Venus of Empire: The Life of Pauline Bonaparte
Celebrated for her looks, notorious for her passions, immortalised by Antonio Canova’s statue and always deeply loyal to her brother, Pauline Bonaparte Borghese is a fascinating figure.
At the turn of the nineteenth century she was considered by many to be the most beautiful woman in Europe. She shocked the continent with the boldness of her love affairs, her opulent wardrobe and jewels and, most famously, her decision to pose nearly nude for Canova’s sculpture, which has been replicated in countless ways through the years. But just as remarkable for Pauline’s private life was her fidelity to the emperor (if not to her husbands). She was witness to Napoleon’s great victories in Italy, and she was often with him and her rival for his loyalty, the Empress Josephine, at Malmaison. When he was exiled to Elba, Pauline was the only sibling to follow him there, and after Waterloo she begged to be allowed to join him at Saint Helena.
No biographer has gone so deeply into the sources or so closely examined one of the seminal relationships of the man who shaped modern Europe. In Venus of Empire, Flora Fraser casts new light on the Napoleonic era while crafting a dynamic, vivid portrait of mesmerising woman.