Proudly presented from www.writerssecrets.com Book series
Excerpt from “The Lant Collection” – Vol. 1 Creme de la Creme
Friends and connoisseurs, imagine if you will, that you had the high honor and distinct privilege of being received by Princess Borghese. That is to say by Napoleon Buonaparte’s youngest sister Pauline Buonaparte (1780-1825), the sixth child of Letizia Ramolino and Carlo Buonaparte.
That is to say, the Duchess of Guastalla, in her own right, then by marriage, Princess of Sulmona and Rossano, and then Imperial Princess of France, for she was all of these.
You would enter her presence and bow in reverence. While you did, her Imperial Highness would be fussing with her clothes, her hair, and ensuring that her footstool was arranged properly. And then you would notice that the footstool was a human being, a lady of the court, stripped, her gown pulled down so that her Imperial Highness might warm her toes upon the bosom of her lady in waiting.
And then you might well be surprised when this self same lady in waiting entered the conversation, though from an odd perspective, for she lay upon her back upon the floor, and twisted and turned to participate in the conversation as often as such contortions were necessary. Her breasts were artfully arranged each time her mistress moved her feet, the better to achieve maximum warmth.
You would notice that no comment was made upon this tableau, for it was not considered at all odd or noteworthy at the Court of Princess Pauline, and that is why you will enjoy this article, for you know nothing of the lady in question, and that is the thing that is truly odd, and shameful.
Princess Pauline is not the focus of this article, for should I cede that position to her, she would hijack this composition as she hijacked so many lives and situations in her colorful life. So I shall tell you a little bit, with the distinct understanding that this is but a fraction of what I could say, and would say, too, if I allowed myself to lose control. For this is an article about two silver gilt creme pots, from the Borghese service, and I must try to focus, difficult though that is.
A few facts about Pauline
She was perhaps the most beautiful woman of her time, and we have but to look at her naked sculpture, sculpted by Canova, to determine the matter for ourselves, for there is not an inch of that voluptuous body, not a half inch, that cannot be seen, and closely too. She was completely uneducated, never a day in school, could hardly write a letter, but what matter that, when she had the body of the century, and her brother was Emperor? She did what she would, when she would, the way she would, usually half naked, or more.
Of course she had lovers. But she approached them in a scientific fashion, measuring every pertinent male part and recording this information in a handy book, where the court ladies and their admirers might see, might compare, and might enjoy, purely in a scientific way of course, the data that are derived. M. Forbin was perhaps the most celebrated entry, for reasons I leave you to guess.
Now for such an indiscriminate lady who left nothing to the imagination, there must be a silver service of surpassing beauty and value, and in fact she had access to two, both given by Napoleon. The first, hers, the second, given to her husband, Prince Camillo (1775-1832), sixth Prince of Sulmona and
Rossano. He was as cute as she was, and as desirable, but predictably, they soon quarreled, because there could only be one star in that firmament, and Pauline particularly could brook no competition.
Napoleon took a shine to Prince Camillo. He was, after all, a “real Prince”, from the papal nobility, and he was a snob. He had two things he wanted for his sister: a magnificent palace, and the famous Borghese diamonds, perhaps the most famous set of gems in Europe.
In addition, he put up with Pauline’s flagrant behaviors, so long as they weren’t in public, and never bothered Napoleon for more and more and more, as his siblings surely did. No, Prince Camillo was something of a find. Thus, Napoleon gave him a grand service of silver gilt, eye-popping in size, radiance, and cost.
The service was done in silver gilt, which is to say, solid silver coated with gold. It looks like gold, but was not as costly to produce. Unfortunately, the fumes for creating such beauty were toxic. No one knows how many men died crafting the Borghese service, but it must have been considerable. However, no one bothered to count, after all, you can’t make an omelette
And so the celebrated French silversmith, frequently used by the Imperial family, Martin-Guillaume Biennais, started work on this service in Paris in 1809, and continued right until the end of the Empire to add new pieces, including this pair of French silver gilt pots-a-creme.
This is the description of these two eye-popping items:
Each flaring cylindrical, on three paw feet with anthemion joints with everted gadrooned rim, the slightly domed cover with leaf calyx and acorn finial, the wood side handle insert with mother-of-pearl, each body and cover engraved with a coat of arms, each marked base, body and cover bezel.
5 1/8 in. (13 cm.) long over handle; 8 oz. 10 dwt. (279 gr.) gross weight The arms are those of Borghese, as borne by Prince Camillo Borghese (2)
But almost as appealing as their form and luster, is the matter of their provenance, for these pieces, more than nearly any other silver service ever made, have been owned by one rich, celebrated person after another, beginning with Prince Camillo’s brother, Prince Francesco Borghese, and continuing through Don Antonio Licata, Prince Baucina, thence to Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick.
Now if you’re a sharp cookie you will surmise which Rockefeller and which McCormick. Edith was the youngest child of John D. Rockefeller, once the richest man in the world, the titan who controlled oil, Standard Oil. Edith thereby came in for a packet.
McCormick was the heir of Cyrus McCormick, who created the McCormick Reaper in 1831. This immediately lengthened the lives of farmers everywhere by mechanizing the onerous harvest, and made one of America’s greatest fortunes.
Oil, grain, what did such wealth on wealth need? Why, the most elaborate silver service ever created, of course. Nothing but the best for these plutocratic whelps.
And so, before their made on Wall St. relationship dissolved in acrimony, Edith commissioned a palace named Turicum. It faced Lake Michigan in Lake Forest, Illinois. There she spent precisely one night and not a minute more.
I can only hope she came home to her abbreviated abode with at least some of the Borghese service in her pocketbook. Ah, that’s why I love my job so…
discovering these bits of cultural history and sharing them with you, dear friend. Edith, by the way, was the last person to attempt to reassemble the complete Borghese service, but even she failed to do so.
I am no snob, but I must confess I do like hanging with aristocrats, plutocrats, nobility, and sovereigns of every kind and variety. Thus, when in October 2004 I saw these silver gilt pots-a-creme in the Christie’s catalogue, I jumped at the opportunity to acquire not just an object, but provenance. Of course they would be expensive, with their unmatched provenance, they had to be expensive, or it wouldn’t have been worth acquiring. If you have to ask how much it costs, you shouldn’t play the game at all.
And so, I hardly gulped at all when I paid four times the high estimate. But what’s a man to do? I could not have them go to some yokel from Milwaukee. That would never do. Oh no, that would never, never do. And so I plunged and captured them for The Lant Collection, my name now linked forever with the
worthies who preceded me in ownership. But, you ask, “What possible use do these items have?” Well, consider this:
The original function of these pots, part of a group of seven from the Borghese service, has been much debated. The form is known in pre-Revolutionary France, and it has been suggested that these dishes held individual casseroles for truffles, eggs or ortollans to be served as condiments for the main course. However, 18th century menus and recipes suggest that pots of this type were used to hold cooked cream-flavored incomparable version of “La Follia”, “The Madness”. And, remember, as you listen, your future could well be determined, gentleman or lady, by just how you
move your every limb.
About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 30 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com
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