Legacy of Napoleon’s artis­tic plun­der on show in Rome

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By FRANCK IOVENE in Rome Agence France-Presse

When he was just plain old Bon­a­parte, the man who was to be­came Napoleon pil­laged works of art from all over Europe with the aim of mak­ing the Lou­vre in Paris a mu­seum for all mankind.

Now some of the ma­jor works that the lit­tle cor­po­ral’s armies took from Italy have been gath­ered to­gether in an ex­hi­bi­tion in Rome to mark the 200th an­niver­sary of their resti­tu­tion, and the un­ex­pect­edly pos­i­tive legacy of the whole episode.

“When the works came back, it made peo­ple here re­al­ize the im­por­tance of their artis­tic her­itage, and, for the first time, they came to see it as a shared, com­mon as­set,” says mu­seum direc­tor Mario De Si­moni.

The Uni­ver­sal Mu­seum runs un­til March 12 at the Scud­erie del Quiri­nale, an ex­hi­bi­tion space cre­ated in what were once the sta­bles of the Quiri­nale, a former pa­pal and royal palace that is now the of­fi­cial res­i­dence of Italy’s pres­i­dent.

Fit­tingly, the cen­ter­piece of the ex­hi­bi­tion of some 100 pieces is Raphael’s paint­ing Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals, which is on loan from the Uf­fizi Gallery in Florence.

Also on dis­play, along with a se­ries of Re­nais­sance sculp­tures, is Ti­tian’s As­sump­tion of the Vir­gin, which nor­mally re­sides in the Basil­ica of Santa Maria Glo­riosa dei Frari in Venice and was once hailed by Os­car Wilde as the finest paint- ing in all of Italy.

“We wanted to tell the story of Napoleon’s great project of cre­at­ing a mu­seum that would be a model for Europe, dis­tanc­ing our­selves from the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of this episode in his­tory as noth­ing more than theft,” says cu­ra­tor Val­ter Curzio.

Plun­der to pat­ri­mony

Napoleon as­sem­bled his Lou­vre-bound stash over the course of sev­eral mil­i­tary cam­paigns be­tween 1796 and 1814.

The suc­cess of his 1796-97 Ital­ian cam­paign en­abled Napoleon to ex­act an enor­mous trib­ute in the form of art­works from Pope Pio VI un­der the Treaty of To­lentina.

An 1811 de­cree or­dered the trans­fer to the French crown of all paint­ings and art­works held in pub­lic build­ings in Rome and around.

Five years later, af­ter Napoleon’s po­lit­i­cal-mil­i­tary ca­reer ended with de­feat in the Bat­tle of Water­loo, most of the “bor­rowed” art­works were sent back to Italy.

Many lan­guished in stor­age un­til, years later, they were sought out as found­ing ex­hibits for what are now some of Italy’s lead­ing mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the Br­era in Mi­lan and the Gal­lerie dell’Ac­cademia in Venice.

“What the Ital­ians had ini­tially seen as some­thing dam­ag­ing was trans­formed by the mys­tery of his­tory into aware­ness of this won­der­ful her­itage that we are still en­joy­ing to this day,” says De Si­moni.

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