(b. 1755, Paris, d. 1842, Paris)

Portrait of Madame de Staël as Corinne on Cape Misenum

Oil on canvas, 140 x 118 cm
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva

Madame de Staël, daughter of the French minister of finance, Jacques Necker, achieved fame on the basis of her turbulent lifestyle and two literary works: De l'Allemagne (1810), a portrait of Germany, its customs, literature and philosophy, and her novel Corinne ou l'ltalie (1807). In this work based on her travels in Italy in the company of August Wilhelm Schlegel, after Napoleon had exiled her from Paris, she records her impressions of Italy in glowing tones through the mouth-piece of the fictitious Italian poetess Corinne. Vigée-Lebrun portrays her in the role of Corinne wearing an antique robe, with a lyre on her lap, as a female Orpheus. Behind this figure there is a cliff crowned by a classical monopteros, and a sweeping landscape that fades into the distance with gentle, green hills and blue mountain peaks. The concept of the classical and the romantic which Madame de Staël was first to use in its present sense, are echoed in these two landscape types. The flawless idealization that marks so many of this artist's works is countered here by the powerful vitality of the face: a mature, confident and energetic woman of astute intellect who is by no means identical with the role of glowing and effusive rapture.