Lucia in the age of Napoleon – Andrea Di Robilant

‘Hanging on the wall right above her was Madame Mocegino’s own portrait, painted in her youth…Madame Mocegino is still beautiful, the way one is beautiful in the shadow of old age. I covered with compliments, which she returned. We were lying to each other and we both knew it.’ Chateaubriand

After becoming reacquainted with an almost complete statue of Napoleon in what used to be his families house in Venice, and coming across Lucia while researching the life of her father Andrea (see A Venetian Affair) Di Robilant was intrigued enough to delve further into his great-great-great-great-grandmother’s life, and by doing so uncovered an indomitable spirit who lived a long and fascinating life.

Engaged to Alvise Mocegino when she was just fifteen, even in her first letter to her future husband, Lucia showed poise and thoughtfulness that she would have throughout the rest of her life.  Di Robilant’s functional text embellishes little, preferring instead to let Lucia tell much of it, using the mine of letters and diaries at his disposal, including near daily letters to her beloved sister Paolina, with whom she nurtured a life long affection and intimacy, particularly as her ceaseless striving for her husbands love often fell short.

Lucia and Alvise hopped from one side to the other as Napoleon rose and fell, first putting herself forward in Vienna, working ceaselessly to integrate herself into the upper echelons of society, and then later finding some freedom and indepence in Paris, where she stayed while accompanying her illegitimate son in his studies, and spending time with the empress Josephine. Despite a highly cosmopolitan life, Lucia was first and foremost a Venetian, and despite witnessing the end of the stagnating republic, always harboured dreams of it being re-established, returning to it in her old age.

Her spirit was tempered by three early miscarriages when under pressure to provide a heir to the Mocegino family, and by her husbands almost constant absence.  Yet Lucia did not sit and pine for Alvise, instead managing his estates, trying various agricultural based business ideas and educating herself in Paris, still never giving up that she could still have the perfect family life.  Alvise constantly sought to be on the right side during a tumultous period for Europe, and was often ostracised for his allegiance at one time or another.  He regularly saw other women, and late on Lucia discovers an illegitimate child of his own, but she outlived her husband, and during her later years rented out part of her home to Byron, an arrangement that did not end amicably for either of them.

Lucia died just before her ninety-fourth birthday, an incredible age at the time. Di Robilant’s diligent research is plainly rendered, but provides an insight into Europe at the time, through the eyes of one of Venice’s last grand dames.


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