Bonaparte’s Death Mask Now in Tbilisi

For one month residents and visitors to Tbilisi will have the chance to see Napoleon Bonaparte’s first-forged death mask at the Art Palace museum (Kargareteli Str. 6). It has been temporarily brought, along with other artifacts belonging to the Royal Dadiani family, from its home in the Dadiani Palace, Zugdidi.

One of only four in existence, the bronze death mask of French Emperor Napoleon I is said to have been made by Dr. Franзois Carlo Antommarchi, in the manner customary following the death of a great leader, using plaster which was carefully placed over Napoleon’s face and removed after hardening. From this mould the bronze masks, such as that now in Tbilisi, were cast. A lot of mystery and controversy surrounds the origins and whereabouts of most of the original cast moulds but the one now on display at the Art Palace museum is confirmed as the first and shows the seal of the Doctor at the neck.

The Mask was brought to Georgia in the late 1800s by the grandson of Napoleon III’s sister, Achill Murat, heir to the French Emperorship, whose hopes of holding such office were crushed by revolution in his own country. Attractive, intelligent and well-respected, Murat married Princess Salome of Megrelia (1848-1913), in 1868. Salome was the daughter of Queen Ekaterine of Megrelia (1816-1882) and King David Dadiani (died in 1853), and brother of the last King of Megrelia, Niko Dadiani (1847-1903).

The family was especially close to Russian Tsar Alexander II and French Emperor Napoleon III and were educated in St Petersburg and Paris, being fluent in French.

As the air of revolution increased in France, Murat decided to move with his family to the Dadiani Palace in Zugdidi where he enjoyed his time working the land and entertaining guests. He brought with him a bounty of French furniture and books- and the family heirloom: the first made mask of Napoleon Boneparte. Eventually, the realization that he would never return as Emperor to his native France drove him to depression and suicide. But his legacy lives on in the great treasure which he brought to Georgia and which can be enjoyed for the next three months at the Art Palace (the Mask will remain just one month) before returning to its home in the Dadiani Palace, Zugdidi.

Katie Ruth Davies

23 May 2015 13:52