What Happened to Joséphine Bonaparte’s Teeth?

The “beauty” of Joséphine Bonaparte, the first wife of Emperor Napoleon, has been a topic of discussion for years. While the painters of her time portrayed her as a captivating woman, several writers of modern times have described her as a person with not-so-alluring features, which include her unappealing teeth. The beautiful Vanessa Kirby’s portrayal of Joséphine in Ridley Scott’s biographical drama ‘Napoleon‘ has now intrigued the viewers about what really happened to her teeth, especially since the actress barely smiles throughout the film. Kirby’s “tight-lipped” performance is connected to how Joséphine lived in reality!

Joséphine Bonaparte’s Rotten Teeth

Even though Joséphine Bonaparte was the empress of France for more than half a decade, her roots can be traced back to Saint Lucia, an island country of the West Indies and a part of the Lesser Antilles, a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Born as Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, she was surrounded by sugarcanes. The nectar of the same wasn’t good for her teeth. “She [Joséphine] sucked on sugarcane plucked from the fields, and drank the syrup so enthusiastically that she gave herself a cavity in her front incisor,” wrote Kate Williams in the biography ‘Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte.’

Image Credit: Château de Fontainebleau/Wikimedia Commons

When Joséphine grew older, the condition of her teeth worsened, which stopped her from smiling freely. “In adulthood, her [Joséphine’s] teeth gave her pain; to hide them, she smiled with her lips pressed closed, looking enigmatic and mysterious to those who did not know the truth,” added Williams. When she went to France from the Caribbean country, Joséphine learned to hide her teeth with her handkerchief whenever she laughed. Realizing the importance of presenting herself well, she also lost weight and used “clinging dresses, shawls, and perfect carriage,” as per her biographer, to “enhance her rather clumsy figure.”

During the French Revolution, Joséphine was arrested with her then-husband Alexandre. Even though she was slender with fine skin, her rotten teeth, thinned hair, and illnesses troubled her while she was in prison. After becoming the better half of Napoleon, Joséphine became the subject of portraits but she remained tight-lipped before the artists. “In her [Joséphine’s] hundreds of commissioned portraits, she was ever young, beautiful, elegant, and graceful, her mouth closed to shield her bad teeth,” reads ‘Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte.’ Still, she found a way to impress the people around her.

Williams added in the biography that Josephine’s “tact and grace” made an impression enough for the individuals who surrounded her to forget her “fading beauty and rather humble past.” While shooting ‘Napoleon,’ Vanessa Kirby used a mouth guard to display rotten teeth, which is invisible in the film. “She [Joséphine] was a young girl who grew up on a tiny Caribbean island, very free, grew up eating sugar cane; she lost all her teeth because of it — I did wear a mouth guard in the movie, but because she didn’t smile with her teeth, you don’t really see it,” the actress told Vanity Fair.

Read More: How Much of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon is True?