The Metamorphosis of Empress Joséphine | Patroness of Roses
<<Dis, Napoléon, j’ai cette idée géniale sur la façon de révolutionner la rose commune et de la transformer d’une fleur un peu boiteuse en une fleur magnifique!”>>
<<Révolution dites-vous? Je pensais à combattre de nouveau les Britanniques, mais partons avec ton idée à la place.>>
[English translation: “Say, Napoléon, I have this great idea about how to revolutionize the common rose and transform it from a somewhat lame flower into one that’s magnificent!”
“Revolution you say? I was thinking of fighting the British again, but let’s go with your idea instead.”]
Ironically, with all the conflict between France and Britain, after Joséphine purchased the Chateau de Malmaison in France, she had her garden landscaped according to the English design of the late 1700s and early 1800s. This started the long horticulture relationship between France and Britain.
While many of the gardeners she employed were from Great Britain, it was French horticulturist André Dupont who helped ignite her love for roses.
Joséphine set upon a mission to collect every rose known to humankind. Her husband ordered his officers to have ships that the French navy captured, searched for roses. Those that held promise were sent to Chateau de Malmaison. During the long wars with Britain, Napoléon’s generals agreed to an ongoing détente in order for British ships to supply Joséphine with roses from prominent gardens including Sir Joseph Bank’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
Joséphine and Dupont established the first modern rose hybridization program (bioengineering) and created a total of 25 new roses. All the while, her popularity and sense of style brought the rose forward in society as a must have flower.
On May 29, 1814, Marie-Joséphine-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie (Empress Joséphine) died at Malmaison after taking a stroll through her beloved gardens with Tsar Alexander. Thirty years after her death, the Russian Grand Duke planted Souvenir de la Malmaison in the Imperial Garden of St. Petersburg; a rose named in Joséphine’s honor.
<< France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine>>
[English translation: “France, the Army, the Head of the Army, Joséphine.”]
Those were Napoléon’s last words.
Behind the Scenes |
The Metamorphosis of Empress Joséphine | Patroness of Roses
Concept | Susan and Tom Libertiny
Master Gardener | Susan Libertiny
Photography | Tom Libertiny
Model | Suzanne Krystina
Costume | Andrew “AJ” Martina
HMUA | Charlee HM
Assistant HMUA | Tracy Noe
Prop Master | Tom Libertiny
Video | Tom Libertiny
Music | Let It Go by Null Paradox
This article is just the beginning to the story of this remarkable woman and her scientific achievements, particularly during a time when women were, at best, second-class citizens.
While Joséphine was thoroughly French, the fact that her garden at Malmaison was English in both spirit and design captured our imaginations. With our backgrounds in engineering and with our own English garden, we had the basis for our photoshoot.
There’s an iconic marble statue of Joséphine in the Albert Museum in London. When comparing it to paintings of her from that era (early 1800s) it captures a good likeness of her. But conceptually, what’s interesting about the statue is the way light falling on it changes the appearance of the stone. Depending on your viewpoint, the statue looks like it could be made from a variety of stones; from alabaster to granite to marble, all based on the attributes of the light shining on the statue, your viewing distance and angle. It’s an artistic representation of physics at work and how our brain processes information in the optical spectrum.
Those elements are the basis for the concept of our photoshoot: the marriage of the statue with Joséphine’s revolutionary love of roses and the English Victorian garden design that she adopted for her French garden at Chateau de Malmaison.
What could that feel like visually?
All of this culminated in our concept: The next phase of Empress Joséphine’s life. From human, to statue, to her metamorphosis into a living rose tree.
Our photographs for this article were taken in the Mary Garden of our home. We temporarily relocated our 700 lbs. statue of Mary that’s normally located at the apex of the garden (approximately 4 feet behind where Suzanne Krystina posed). Next, we upgraded the 8 ft tall arborvitae hedge behind Suzanne by making it denser through the addition of even more arborvitae. Chandeliers and Christmas ornaments were flown from a steel truss system (out-of-frame in our photographs) that was designed to produce a forced perspective look to our photographs. Once Suzanne was on her mark, we added more ornaments and roses adjacent to her feet.
While Tom, Susan, and AJ worked on installing our props, Charlee and Tracy spent over 4 hours with Suzanne on hair and makeup. Their work included the unique colors and textures they developed and tested in the weeks leading to our photoshoot to give Suzanne the look of a statue. Then there’s Charlee’s hairpiece design: simply stunning art that brings to life Empress Joséphine metamorphosis into a living rose tree.
Due to the design of Charlee’s headpiece, AJ initially dressed Suzanne in the portions of his costume that needed to be in place before Charlee and Tracy could begin their work. Once they had completed hair and makeup, AJ dressed Suzanne in the costume he custom designed for our photoshoot. Additional hair and makeup work was done while AJ added the details to his costume look.
Six hours later, we were ready to shoot.
In the days leading to the photoshoot, we ran a series of photographic tests to determine when the natural lighting was optimal in color and intensity. Also tested was the location of shadows cast by trees in our garden as well as those cast by the props and truss system holding the chandeliers. All of this created the feeling that the statue of Empress Joséphine, as performed by Suzanne, had been there for hundreds of years and was now just blossoming in the summer light.
Then there’s the artistry of Suzanne. Six hours of preparation and then she was ready to begin her performance. That took a combination of patience, good humor, and grace to accomplish. She’s a wonderful artist to work with because she immediately comprehended the concept of our shoot and took it to the next level with large movements that where frankly difficult to achieve due to the literal weight of six hours of hair, makeup, and costume. She achieved the subtleness of someone or something like a reanimated Joséphine might feel through her gaze, hand gestures, and the use of our props.
Video | Behind the Scenes
Pro Tip | AJ Martina and Tom Libertiny
Interested in spicing up your next holiday party or wedding? Insert flower petals into glass Christmas ornaments.
For our photoshoot, we used:
| Clear glass Christmas ornaments that were 3 inches in diameter
| Hot pink roses. One rose can fill 6 ornaments
If you’re placing the ornaments on tables or a similarly secure surface, try filling them up with water and sealing the top. The ornaments will act as a magnifying lens making the flower petals appear much larger.
Note | If you’re ornaments are filled with water, don’t suspend them with the included hooks; they’ll be too heavy and will crash to the ground.
Mary Garden | Update
Take a close look at our video: less than a week later, the Mary Garden that you see has been completely transformed. More about this soon!