Napoleon's Plunder and the Theft of Veronese's Feast

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'As Saltzman explains in this compelling account of the fragility of beauty before avarice, Napoleon made a science of plunder … [a] thrilling blend of historical narrative and art criticism' - The Times

Napoleon's Plunder chronicles one of the most spectacular art appropriation campaigns in history and, in doing so, sheds new light on the complex origins of what was once called the Musee Napoleon, now known as the Louvre

In 1796, four years after the founding of the First French Republic and only two days after his marriage to Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon Bonaparte left Paris to take command of his first campaign in Italy, aged only twenty-six. One year later, Napoleon's army was in Venice and his commissioners were determining which great Renaissance artworks to bring back to France.

Among the paintings the French chose was The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese, a vast masterpiece that had hung in the refectory of San Giorgio Maggiore since it was painted in 1563. Once pulled from the wall, the Venetian canvas crossed the Mediterranean packed among paintings commandeered from Venice and made its way by river and canal to Paris where Napoleon gathered his spoils of war - treasures from the cities of Rome, Milan, and later Berlin and Vienna. In 1801 the Veronese was placed on triumphant display in the Louvre, the former palace of the French kings, which had been transformed into a public museum that ostensibly belonged to the French people, but which also functioned as a monument to Napoleon's power.

Saltzman interweaves the stories of Napoleon's military campaigns, uncovering the treaties through which he obtained his loot, with the histories of the plundered works themselves, exploring how these masterpieces came into being. As much as a story of military might, this is an account of one of the most ambitious cultural projects ever conducted.

  • Author: Cynthia Saltzman
  • Hardcover: 320 pages | 32 illustrations
  • Date published: May 2021
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 978-0500252574
  • Product Dimensions: 34.1 x 23.3 cm

'Expertly researched, 'Napoleon's Plunder' chronicles one of history's most incredible art appropriation campaigns, illuminating a historic figure and the complex origins of one of the greatest museums in the modern world' - Veranda

'[A] well-written, carefully constructed, artistic gem of a book ... Saltzman can convey her knowledge with clarity as well as wisdom ... An excellent book' - The New Criterion

'[A] fascinating and wide-ranging cultural history, at the centre of which is the fate of one of the Renaissance’s greatest paintings ... Among the most chilling pages of Saltzman’s forensic narrative is her account of the damage suffered by Veronese’s painting on its journey to Paris' - Sunday Times

'Fascinating and deeply rewarding … underpinned by wide research and an impressive grasp of techniques and technicalities ... a delight to read' - Daily Telegraph

'The fascination of Saltzman’s splendid book lies to a significant degree in her subtle contrast of the tumultuous immensity of Bonaparte’s aspirations and the serenity of Veronese’s painting … Thoroughly at ease in the Venetian Renaissance and French imperial worlds, Cynthia Saltzman tells this story with Veronesian panache' - Literary Review

'Saltzman’s sharp eyes – for people, settings and dramatic scenery – draw us brilliantly across 250 years and most of continental Europe' - The Oldie

'Saltzman seamlessly interweaves multiple narratives … we encounter the ruthlessness of Napoleon’s military campaigns alongside the splendour of Venetian art, illustrating how deeply politics and aesthetics connects at this time. … [Saltzman] recounts the stories of a wide spectrum of figures – from artists to ambassadors, restorers to royalty – with rigour and wit, bringing the history to life' - Art Quarterly

'An absorbing story of conflict and culture' - The Economist

'As Saltzman explains in this compelling account of the fragility of beauty before avarice, Napoleon made a science of plunder … [a] thrilling blend of historical narrative and art criticism' - The Times

'But really, Saltzman uses Veronese’s “Feast” as a framework for an investigation of art theft as a cultural strategy. Using a mix of art, military, and intellectual history, she argues that controlling art is a powerful way to control hearts and minds… Plunder is at its best when Saltzman describes – and dissects – the philosophical and nationalistic underpinnings of France’s art kleptomania…. Plunder asks its readers to look at art museums through a combined historical-ethical lens. Many of us could use that skill in the present, too' - Hyperallergic

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