9015 GIOACCHINO NAPOLEONE MURAT (1767-1815), KING OF NAPLES, REPRESENTED AS A COCKEREL BATTLING WITH TWO SERPENTS, ATTRIBUTED TO FRANCESCO ANTONIO FRANZONI (1734-1818) Probably Rome. Circa 1804/1813.   Measurements: Width: 20″ (51cm) Depth: 11″ (28cm) Height: 15 1/4″ (39cm)

A statuary marble sculpture of a cockerel with two intertwined snakes. The cockerel is holding one snake in its beak while the other is pinned down with its left foot. A sculpted bee sits on the comb of the cockerel. The oval base is resting on its original pedestal of giallo antico marble, of the same shape, with molded edges and protruding borders. The object is whole and in excellent condition excepting the beak of the bird and part of one of the snakes where there are traces of old damage which has been restored. Along the edges of the giallo antico marble pedestal there are some minor scratches and a more visible scratch on the upper border.

Daniel Katz Gallery, London,  1994

The cockerel is rendered with striking naturalism and elaborate attention to detail. Its feathers are highly refined and arranged in sections at intervals with subtly worked spaces in between, which gives the subject a strong sense of movement. The tension of the arched body, with its feathers seeming to have been inflated from within, conveys the excitement of the bird, who has just subdued its cunning prey. Even the various surface textures, such as the calloused feet, the flaccid comb and wattle, the scaly skin of the snakes and the covering of grass on the base, are intricately worked. The extraordinary technical skill of the sculptor is evidenced by the use of a single block of marble, a considerable achievement, particularly where the subtleties like the feathers, the complexly coiling bodies of the snakes, and the positioning of the feet of the bird are concerned.

The composition takes its inspiration from the late Baroque period and is closely related to the oeuvre of the sculptor, Francesco Antonio Franzoni (Carrara 1734-Rome 1818), whose work is characterized by his profound understanding of archaeology, the striking naturalism of the animals he created, and his painstaking attention to detail and ornament. In fact, he was considered the undisputed master of the animal genre. In a portrait by Domenico De Angelis (Ponzano 1735-Roma 1804) Franzoni is depicted working on a sculpture of an eagle (figure 1) (Fine Arts Academy, Carrara), while Oreste Raggi recalled that his animals “were wrought with much artful labor and expressiveness,” an observation that tallies perfectly with the present work.1

Born in Carrara, Francesco Antonio Franzoni, arrived in Rome in 1758, and soon joined the workshop of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Mogliano Veneto 1720-Rome 1778), where he worked as a restorer with Guillaume Grandjacquet (Reugney 1731-Rome 1801) and Lorenzo Cardelli (Rome 1733-1794). He also produced works inspired by Piranesi’s ideas and designs. As a restorer, Franzoni further developed the methods espoused by Johann Johachim Winckelmann (Stendal, Germany 1717 –Trieste 1768) and practiced by Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (Rome ca. 1715-1799). Thanks to his artistic versatility and entrepreneurial skills he was able to amass a considerable fortune, as he won the admiration and trust of the Roman aristocracy and artists such as Antonio Canova (Possagno 1757-Venezia 1822). He was also continuously active in the Vatican. For pope Clement XIV he made “The Arms” (1772) in the Gallery of the Statues and was responsible for the restoration of the Goat Amalthea (1773). Pius VI, his major patron, engaged him as a consultant, procurer and restorer of antique marble, as well as a sculptor and carver, keeping him busy for the rest of his life in many ways, particularly in the Vatican collection. Franzoni left his mark on practically every room, from the Gallery of the Statues to the Gallery of the Candelabras, from the Room of the Muses to that of the Chariot.

Franzoni was surrounded by a whirl of cosmopolitan artists, restorers, collectors, agents and consultants, whom he advised on the acquisition of antiquities. Together with his collaborator and friend Vincenzo Pacetti (1746-1820), Franzoni cultivated a large network of people, procuring materials and archaeological objects, columns, vases and fragments, which were then carefully restored, or blocks of antique fragments, from which they created works that conveyed the essence of the original piece and combined ancient and modern.

Within in this frenetic and varied activity, the work that made Franzoni famous was the Room of the Animals in the Pio-Clementino Museum in the Vatican, started by Pope Clement XIV at the beginning of the 1770s and finished in 1782. It comprised vivid animal groups carved from archaeological remains or made from scratch using rare marbles, sometimes excavated from archeological sites. The extraordinary collection of sculptures, accurate in zoological terms and portraying the many characteristic traits and behaviors of the animal subjects, represented a celebration of the animal kingdom.

Particularly relevant to the present piece is the fact that, among the sculptures in the Room of the Animals, the theme of combat recurs frequently, depicted in different ways and in various groups. Examples include the goat beset by a mastiff,2 a work made entirely by Franzoni, and a similar group restored by him, depicting a deer attacked by a mastiff. There are also numerous images of birds and other animals struggling with snakes (Inventory Nos. 80,88) (figure 2).

The heron with a frog (Inventory no. 536) a contemporary sculpture, and the crow attacking a hedgehog (Inventory Nos. 537), integrating an antique fragment found in Hadrian’s Villa in 1773, have stylistic similarities to the present sculpture. The crow, of contemporary date except for the middle part of its body, has the same detailed treatment of the plumage at the back as the present piece. In both cases, this highly realistic rendering of the feathers suggests that the sculptures were based on studies from life. Numerous further similarities, including the detail of the hollow eye ringed round the edge, the curvilinear shape of the body and the detailed grass-covered base strongly suggest that the execution of this sculpture and the present one, are by the same hand.

The theme of the present sculpture also shares similarities with other groups of birds fighting reptiles. Here, however, the pair of snakes, while yet alive, has already been clearly defeated. Another significant detail in the present piece, not represented in the Room of the Animals, is a bee carved on the crest of the cockerel (figure 3). This aspect appears to be unique and gives the work a heraldic attribute, as well as being allegorical. The image of the cockerel, emblem of France, and a bee, a Napoleonic device, suggest that the sculpture was an allusion to Imperial France and two of its enemies, who have been beaten. It might also indicate a more particular Napoleonic allegory made for an actual member of the Imperial family.

The exact circumstances of how the present sculpture was made are unknown, but according to documents relating to the activities of Franzoni and his closest collaborator Vincenzo Pacetti, there were obvious French sympathies and frequent contacts with Imperial figures linked to the Napoleonic circle. For example, Pacetti had a regular and long-standing rapport with Lucien Bonaparte, for whom he acquired antiquities for the residence at Canino and who, in 1809, visited the studio of his friend. Franzoni, meanwhile, was fêted by Antonio Canova, who on the day of Napoleon’s coronation in 1804, chose three vases from Franzoni’s studio to be sent to the Emperor, as well as other works as gifts for the Pope. Among the eminent figures for whom Franzoni procured antiquities was Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother-in-law, Gioacchino Napoleone Murat (1767-1815), the eccentric King of Naples and a lover of luxury and antiquities, with whom Franzoni had formed a strong friendship. We know from a passage in a letter written by Francesco Righetti in 1813 to an official of the government of Naples, that Franzoni intended to move to Naples in order to found a school for the art of making marble inlay and animal sculptures.3 The project was later suspended because of the onset of Napoleonic events in Italy, but is nonetheless proof of the reciprocal admiration and friendship that existed between Franzoni and the royal couple of Naples, Murat and Caroline Bonaparte (Ajaccio 1782—Firenze 1839), Napoleon’s youngest sister.

The symbol of the cockerel, traditionally associated with announcing a new day, is one of the oldest features on coats of arms in heraldry and represents boldness, majesty, victory, strength, generosity, and vigilance. In early coats of arms it is most often depicted with one foot raised, alluding to its courage and aggression in battle.

The association of the cockerel with the French nation is rooted in the ancient history of Gallia and derives from the play on words in Latin between Gallus, meaning both inhabitant of Gaul, as well as cockerel or rooster. Suetonius, in The Twelve Caesars remarked that, in Latin, rooster (gallus) and Gauls (Gallus) were homonyms. The use of the term by the enemies of France dates back to the Middle Ages, originally a pun to make fun of the French association between the cockerel and the Gauls. However, the relationship was later deliberately developed by the kings of France for the strong Christian symbol that the cockerel represents: prior to being arrested, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the cockerel crowed on the following morning. At the cockerel’s crowing, Peter remembered Jesus’ words. Furthermore, its crowing at the dawning of each new morning made it a symbol of the daily victory of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil. It is also an emblem of the Christian’s attitude of watchfulness and readiness for the sudden return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment of mankind. That is why, during the Renaissance, the cockerel became a symbol of France as a Catholic state.

The popularity of the Gallic cockerel, colloquially named Chanteclair, as a national personification resurged during the French Revolution (1789). Republican historiography completely modified the traditional perception of the origins of France, which, until then, was said to have dated back to the baptism of Clovis I in 496, the “first Christian king of France”. The republicans rejected this royalist and Christian position, and traced back the beginnings of France to the ancient Gaul. The cockerel became the personification of the early inhabitants of France, the Gauls, and symbol of the national identity in the Republican period.

The seal of the First Consul contained a shield with a cockerel and a Phrigian cap. The allegory of Fraternité is often represented holding a cane surmounted by a cockerel. Napoleon later found the image of the cockerel not powerful enough to symbolize his Empire, preferring instead the Imperial Roman eagle in upward soaring flight, which better expressed the concepts of majesty and sovereign power. However, the cocq gaulois continued to be used in Napoleonic times alluding directly to France and also to the Emperor. In a caricature of 1803 the head of Napoleon is superimposed on the body of a cockerel. The bird can also be seen on coins dating from the period at the beginning of the empire: on the six lire coin made in 1800 by the mint of Milan (1797-1802), the seated matron, representing France, is wearing a helmet surmounted by a cockerel. In other coins, like the marengo, a gold coin equivalent to 20 francs and also on the coin of 40 francs, a small cockerel appears in the verse at the beginning of the inscription ‘Empire Francais’. France is also represented by a cockerel in The Apotheosis, by Anne-Louise Girodet-Trioson (1802), which depicts the French heroes who fell for the nation during the War of Liberty.

On the present sculpture, the detail of the bee on the crest of the cockerel seems anything but casual. In fact, it is a sign of a return to heraldry, and indicates that the piece is not only a virtuoso exercise made by an expert hand, probably Francesco Franzoni, but also a perfect synthesis of symbols, which, though difficult to fathom for a modern viewer must have seemed obvious at the time it was made. The combined use of the proud cocq gaulois and the presence of a bee, one of Napoleon’s favorite emblems regularly adopted by him from the time of his coronation, suggests an allusion to the French Empire and either to the figure of the Emperor Napoleon, or to a member of the imperial family.

The reasons for using bees as a symbol of belonging and reference to Napoleon can be found in various sources. As a symbol of industriousness and civic virtue, of order, but also immortality and resurrection, the bee had been used as an emblem in heraldic contexts in different eras, linked to eminent figures such as Lawrence the Magnificent: in the frieze of his villa at Poggio a Caiano (1490) there is a hive from which honey is extracted to feed little Jupiter. About a century later, the Granduke Ferdinand de’ Medici adopted the personal device of a swarm of bees, with the motto maiestate tantum. There were also the celebrated three bees adopted by Pope Urban VIII Barberini, instead of the horsefly, which was the ancient heraldic symbols of his family. In the case of the Napoleonic bees the choice was determined by the return to French origins since the gallic bees were a symbol of the French monarchy at the time of Charlemagne and the Napoleonic purple cloak embroidered with gold bees is probably a direct reference to the mantle of Childeric I, King of the Franks (436-481) found in his tomb at Tournai in 1653, which was embroidered with three hundred gold bees and pomegranates.

In the portrait by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres of 1803, where Napoleon is depicted dressed in the uniform of First Consul (Museum of Fine Arts, Liège), the bee emblem does not feature, whilst from the date of his coronation in Paris, 2 December 1804, it is invariably there. In the large painting by Jacques-Louis David (Paris, Louvre Museum) between 1805 and 1807, in which the solemn event is recorded for posterity, we see the rich cloaks worn by Napoleon and the Empress Josephine designed by Louis-Hippolyte Leroy, made of purple velvet, lined with ermine and covered with gold bees. David also painted Napoleon in his study (1812) standing beside a chair with gold embroidered bees on its red upholstery (figure 4).

The use of the bee emblem was a privilege reserved for the Emperor, the bonne villes and princes of the Empire, who were given the distinctive heraldic blue cape, embroidered with gold bees. Napoleon’s sister, Caroline, is wearing a dress covered in gold bees in the portrait by Jean Baptist Wicar. Pauline (1780-1825) is depicted by Marie-Guillemin Benoist (1768-1826) in a painting of 1808,4 seated on an imposing armchair placed on a blue carpet decorated with gold bees. Elisa (1777-1820), the Emperor’s sister and wife of Felice Pasquale Baciocchi (1762-1841) was similarly featured with bees in many of her portraits. They appear, repeated in sequence, on the band in her hair, on the bust made by Lorenzo Bartolini (1777-1850) (Ajaccio, Fesch Museum, Lucca, Napoleonic Museum, Rome).

The emblem of the bee also appears on the cradle of the King of Rome,5 commissioned by the city of Paris as a gift for Napoleon and his wife, the Empress Marie-Louise of Austria (Vienna 1791 – Parma 1847), on the occasion of the birth of their heir, Napoleon II. The luxurious cradle made of enameled silver, gold, mother of pearl, copper and velvet, has an eagle at its foot facing the infant, while three rows of superimposed gold bees, decorate the cross-linked gilt-bronze work around the body of the cradle. The court poet, Vincenzo Monti, dedicated an ode to the infant: Le api Panacridi in Alvisopoli in which the same industrious bees who fed the baby Jupiter on Mt. Ida, speak to the infant who was destined for the Roman throne.

The snakes play a key role in the symbolic meaning of the present sculpture. This animal typically embodies shrewdness or eternity, when shown biting its own tail, however, when it is trodden on or being devoured by another animal, it represents an enemy, who has been overcome. In this context, the cockerel is holding one of the snakes effortlessly in its beak, while the other lies motionless as if dead: both are enemies defeated.

The snakes might allude to a military triumph or territory annexed in Napoleonic lands. Following the victory at Austerlitz on 2 December 1805, Napoleon had settled with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, declaring an end to the Bourbon dynasty and appointing his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte (Corte 1768 – Firenze 1844), King of Naples. In 1808 Joseph was appointed King of Spain and replaced by Gioacchino Murat (Labastide-Fortunière 1767—Pizzo 1815).

On the basis of the above interpretation, which leads us to see the sculpture as a kind of synthesis of Napoleonic symbols, it seems to be appropriate to surmise that the present cockerel was made by Franzoni as a gift for a member of the Napoleonic family. The royal couple of Naples, who showed appreciation for Franzoni’s astonishing animals and invited him to Naples to practice and teach this specific genre of sculpture, was certainly a possible recipient of this celebratory tribute.

This sculpture of a bold cocq gaulois, could easily allude to the proud Murat, known for his daring and charisma, as well as his flamboyant sense of dress. The Napoleonic bee on the comb of the cockerel can be connected to his wife, the princess Caroline, while the two snakes are reminiscent of the two snakes framing the head of the hideous Trinacria, which features on the Napoleonic flag of the Kingdom as symbol of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, captured by Napoleon and governed by Murat from 1808 to 1815.

Murat’s predilection for the animal genre is also documented by the acquisition of a painting by the Bohemian artist, Johann Wenzel (Wenceslaus) Peter (1745-1829), who was active in Rome and specialized in animal themes. The work, depicting a scene of combat with a lion and tiger, was presented in an exhibition in the Campidoglio in Rome, inaugurated by Murat on 4 November, 1809.6 The painting was quickly transported to Naples together with the work of thirteen other artists acquired by Gioacchino.7 It has not been possible to confirm whether the execution of the present sculpture can be traced back to that event, despite the record of visits and contacts with Franzoni in that period, which correspond with the official request of his transfer to Naples in 1813. The dramatic end of Murat, shot at Pizzo Calabro in 1815, and the subsequent departure of his wife Carolina from Naples, resulted in the dispersal of the royal couple’s furniture,8 objects and works of art during the 19th century, which were mostly absorbed into private collections.

We are extremely grateful to Dottoressa Anna Maria Massinelli for compiling this entry.


  1. Raggi O., Monumenti sepolcrali eretti in Roma agli uomini celebri…, III, Roma 1846, pp. 15 s.
  2. Inv. 441.2.1, Massi G., Descrizione compendiosa dei Musei dell’Antica Scultura Greca e Romana nel Palazzo Vaticano, IV ed. Roma, 1894.
  3. Carloni, 1998
  4. Now at the Castle in Fontainebleau.
  5. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
  6. Visconti G.A. Lettere nelle quali si dà conto delle opere di Pittura, Scultura, Architettura,ed Incisione esposte nelle stanze del Campidoglio lì 19 novembre, 1809, in: Il Giornale del Campidoglio, n. 71, Roma,11 dicembre 1809, pp. 289-290.
  7. Antonacci F., Lapiccirella D., Johann Wenzel (Venceslao) Peter (Karlsbad,1745-Roma, 1829). Sulle orme di Gioacchino Murat, Roma, 2010.
  8. The furnishings of Murat and Carolina in the palace of Caserta cf.: Cioffi 2004, on the history of the collection of paintings: Scognamiglio O., I dipinti di Gioacchino e Carolina Murat. Storia di una collezione, Napoli, 2008.


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