Il Bussolotto

Letizia Bonaparte (1749-1836) was Napoleon’s mother. She was born in Corsica when it was still a part of the Republic of Genova.

At the age of 14, Letizia married 17 year old Carlo Bonaparte of Ajaccio. Bonaparte later joined the resistance movement against the Genovese and, later, against the French as well.

When Letizia was pregnant with Napoleon, she and her husband were forced to hide in the mountains with other insurgents fighting for Corsican independence. It would seem that Napoleon’s political imprinting began when he was still in the womb.

In 1785, Napoleon’s father died of stomach cancer. His mother with left a widow with eight children to raise. Napoleon was 16. Later he would crown himself Emperor but would not honor his mother with a title as well save for “Madame Mére”.

Eventually circumstances forced Letizia to leave Paris and move to Rome where her daughter, Paolina aka Princess Borghese, lived.

Letizia, for years a mom alone, had much respect for money. She made wise investments permitting her a comfortable old age. In Rome, she bought the palazzo at the corner of via del Corso and Piazza Venezia and had it decorated as would the mother of an Emperor.

Somewhat of a recluse, Letizia seldom went out save for an occasional stroll on via del Corso or to pick the fresh flowers she insisted on having every day.

The palazzo, now known as Bonaparte, was big and beautiful but unable to offer companionship. To pacify her need to interact with others, Letizia had a “bussolotto” built onto the first floor balcony. Made of dark green shutters (but with the interior decorated with floral motifs inspired by the frescoes at Pompei), the bussolotto permitted Letizia to look out and observe those on the streets without being seen herself. In a way, you could say that Letizia was a voyeur. She especially enjoyed spying on festivities such as the Roman Carnevale. And, when she was practically blind, she had her lady-in-waiting describe what was going on the street below.

Palazzo Bonaparte is not far from where Michelangelo’s house once stood on via dei Fornari. But his house, along with those of many others, was demolished to make room for the Altare della Patria, a monument to the king, Vittorio Emanuele III. There is a memorial plaque on the building of Assicurazione Generali indicating that Michelangelo’s home once stood there.

Why Michelangelo’s home would be torn down to make room for a totally insignificant person like that particular king is still a mystery to me.

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Related: Museo Napoleonico Roma + Le donne di Napoleone all’Elba + Mostre Palazzo Bonaparte + THE BONAPARTES IN ROME + Napoleon’s vision for a new Imperial Rome

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