While Napoleon Bonaparte himself never came to Rome, in 1796 French troops invaded Italy and defeated the papal military forces. By 1798, Rome was under French control, and the Pope was held captive. From then on, there was constant conflict between Napoleon and the Vatican.
Napoleon demonstrated his control over the Eternal City by declaring his son, Napoleon François-Joseph Charles, King of Rome. The “King of Rome’s” mother was Princess Marie Louise of Austria. He never managed to set foot in Rome since he died at age 21.
Other Bonapartes, however, did come to the Eternal City.
The most famous of the Bonapartes to live in Rome was Napoleon’s pretty — and controversial — sister Pauline, who married Prince Camillo Borghese. Her wedding portrait shows the lady in a very sheer dress, leaving nothing to the imagination (although her expression is rather demure):
But this was not the last time Pauline would show off her assets. She posed nude for the sculptor Antonio Canova, who portrayed her as the goddess Venus Victrix (Venus Victorious), as seen at the top of this post. The sculpture caused a scandal in Rome, apparently to Pauline’s amusement: when asked how she ever could have posed for a sculpture in the nude, she replied that there was a stove in the sculptor’s studio to keep her warm.
Pauline came to Rome in 1803. Her marriage to Prince Borghese was an unhappy one, and they spent many years living apart — which seemed to suit Pauline just fine. She would eventually move to Elba to be near her brother, at that time deposed and exiled. But she did not follow him into his second exile. Instead, she returned to Rome to reside in Villa Paolina near the Porta Pia.
Her mother, Maria Letizia Buonaparte, also chose to live in Rome. Unlike Pauline, Madame Bonaparte lived very quietly, in a palazzo on Piazza Venezia, now called Palazzo D’Aste-Bonaparte. Legend has it that she enjoyed sitting on the little enclosed balcony, where she could watch the traffic below without being seen.
She died in Rome in 1836 at age 85.
The best place to learn more about the Bonapartes in Rome is the free Museo Napoleonico. This is a lovely and concise museum and gallery less than 15 minutes’ walk from our apartment.