“Bernadotte and Napoleon” (1931)

“Bernadotte and Napoleon” (1931)
by Chevalier Fortunino Matania (1881 – 1963)
7 x 9 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

A masterful illustrator, Matania was an Italian artist known far and wide for his incredible historical illustrations, particularly his realistic portrayal of World War I .

Matania’s most important work could be found in the pages of Brittania & Eve, the British women’s magazine that Matania began working for in 1929, soon after they began publication. Surrounding himself with objects from history, Matania gained acclaim for his technical virtuosity, and the great detail he would put into each illustration. He also gained acclaim for the voluptuous nudes that he would sometimes put into his images. “The public demanded it,” says Matania. “If there was no nude, then the editor or I would get a shower of letters from readers asking politely why not.” Matania was a mainstay in the pages of Brittania & Eve for 19 years.

This particular pen & ink illustration appeared in the December 1931 issue of Brittania & Eve. It features Napoleon Bonaparte, Desiree Clary, and Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte. Clary was engaged to marry Bonaparte, but he called off the engagement after he became involved with Josephine. Clary later married Bernadotte, who was a leading general in the French Napoleonic army. In 1818, Bernadotte became the King of Sweden, and his wife, who had stayed behind in Paris, later became Queen in 1829.

The detail and pen work in this illustration is simply exquisite, and cannot be captured properly in a scan. The layers of tones, all done in hatched and cross-hatched lines, are beautifully rich. A master at work.

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