Maria Cosway

The important relationships

She spent her life in Italy, Lyon and Paris, where she had the possibility of experiencing personally the great historical events that characterized her time (above all the French revolution) and to establish relationships with the politicians that influenced her time.

Maria Cosway's life has been quite remarkable: she had surely an eclectic personality, endowed with sharp irony, she was an enthusiastic, curious person but at the same time “cool, distant,...I will not enchante at first sight ... indifferent to flattery”.

Maria had, besides having a delicate and affable beauty, all the qualities for being surrounded by admiration. By means of a correspondence, which is mostly unpublished, we can trace her friendships.

thomas jeffersonNoble woman and with a great figure, her wandering through Europe permits her to meet several personalities, starting from Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who became the third President of the United States of America (1801-1809). Excluding any kind of romanticized interpretation of a possible love liason, Jefferson was in correspondence with Maria for about fifty years and in particular he wrote to her (12 October 1786) My heart and my head which was a conversation between the rational inner voice of Mind and the sentimental and passionate one of Heart.

This event has been romantically emphasized but we must be extremely cautious in relation to the correct kind of relationship between Maria and Jefferson and exclude all sentimental speculations. Nobody wants to rule out the aspect of attraction that could have involved both of them, the mutual fascination and the chosen interests between well-educated persons, but it's necessary to adjourn our judgment as there's a lack of sure and further investigations ... ... It appears improper to define "a whirling love story" what has just been a short acquaintance which expressed it's emotional exalting stage more in Jefferson's frame of mind rather than in Cosway's... ...Moreover there's no trace of this relationship, and neither in the detailed diary of an intermediary in first person, such as it had been Trumbull, apart from the evidence of "Dialogue between my Head and my Heart" by the American minister fallen in love. (Maria e Richard Cosway, edited by Tino Gipponi, Umberto Allemandi & C., Torino 1998).

hancarvilleMaria meets Marquis d’Hancarville (Pierre-Francois Hugues) (1719-1805), an adventurer and antique dealer, an inveterated gambler, who appointed himself Baron and who had been expelled from Naples (1769) as he had edited a libertine work on “the secret worship of Roman ladies”. Work that had been published for the first time in 1784. It's a deep commentary and the description of 50 engraved erotic images that will be published separately three years later in 1787. The plates had been already published with short notes in English and French probably in Naples in 1771, under the title of: «Veneres et Priapi uti observantur in gemmis antiquis» He published the Antiquités étrusques, grecques, et romaines (Parigi 1785-1788).

joseph wright of derbyIn the florentine period (1773-1778) Maria is a copyist at the Uffizi and has the chance to meet Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) who had been invited to Florence by Queen Carlotta.

In this period Maria also meets Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) a painter of the industrial revolution. He educated himself in London, with Thomas Hudson, and when he went back to his native town he began the activity of portrait painter, working mostly for the scientific societies of the time.

Other famous names were: the French painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), her friend for 15 years. joseph feschMaria meets (1802) the Archbishop, then Cardinal, Joseph Fesch (1763-1839), uncle of Napoleon, who will help her to open the Lyon College (1803-1812). The Pope Pio VII raised him to the rank of Cardinal in the consistory dated 17 January 1803. He died on the 13th of May 1839 at the age of 76.

pasquale paoliParticular and lasting has been Maria's friendship with the Corsican general Pasquale Paoli (1725-1807) who wrote her 123 letters between 1784 and 1803. Declared Father and General of the Nation, he has marked Corsican history deeply . Under his authority, Corsica becomes a Republic admired by several Nations. He was Corsican patriot and he retired to London (1796). Great inspirer of the Corsican Costitution, he has contributed to elaborate the United States one.

In other circumstances Maria met Prince Hoare (who fell in love with her) secretary of the Royal Academy; the composer William Parsons, maestro of the band His Majesty (he asked for her hand in marriage in 1777), was probably Maria's lover from 1790 to 1795; the soprano Luigi Marchesi from Inzago, called Marchesini (1754-1829), who studied in Modena and became “soprano musician pupil” in Milan's cathedral; he was one of the principle voice trebles of the time.

Maria met also the Bonaparte family. Later, during her wandering through Europa, Maria got in touch and in relationship with Alfieri, Ugo Foscolo, Appiani, Antonio Canova, Giulia Beccaria and her son Alessandro Manzoni, Angelica Kauffman, the Countess of Albania Louisa Stolberg, the Polish general Tadeusz Kòsciuszko (1746-1817) a friend of Jefferson's, the sculptress Damer Seymour, the painters Vien, Regnault, and many other personalities.

She was also in correspondence with P.O., her advisor in Casalpusterlengo (Lodi). P.O. appears to be friar Onorato, or Luigi Nina from Pavia; Maria had turned to the Capuchin strict and harsh spiritual advice during her first parting from her husband for four years (1790-1794) and probably also in 1798.

melzi d'erilThe acquaintance (in London, in 1787) with Francesco Melzi d’Eril (1753-1816), duke of Lodi, permits Maria to start up, in 1812, the Beata Vergine delle Grazie College in Lodi.

Fondazione Maria Cosway   Via Paolo Gorini, 6   26900 Lodi   C.F. 84511920153