Bartholdy fought in the Austrian army against Napoleon, afterward entered the diplomatic service of Prussia, and accompanied the Allied armies to Paris in 1814, whence he was dispatched to Rome in the following year as Prussian Consul-General. He was a great patron of the arts. The revival of fresco painting amongst young German artists in Italy was due largely to his patronage. A group of artists composed of Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Peter von Cornelius, Philipp Veit, and Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow decorated a room of his palace with frescoes. His valuable collection of antiques was bought for the Berlin Museum of Art, while the frescos of his mansion at Rome, the so-called Casa Zuccari, were transferred in 1887 to the Berlin National Gallery.
Bartholdy's sister Lea was married to Abraham Mendelssohn, and Bartholdy persuaded him to adopt his 'Christian' surname to differentiate the family from its connection with Abraham's father, the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn.