Thames & Hudson is to publish 'Napoleon's Plunder: The Theft of Veronese's Feast' by Cynthia Salzman

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Thames & Hudson is to publish 'Napoleon's Plunder: The Theft of Veronese's Feast' by Cynthia Salzman
Napoleon’s Plunder: The Theft of Veronese’s Feast by Cynthia Saltzman. Published by Thames & Hudson 13 May 2021. £25.00 hardback, 46 illustrations, 320pp.

LONDON.- Cynthia Saltzman’s expertly researched and deftly told new book, 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 'Musée Napoléon', now known as the Louvre.

As Napoleon’s conquering army cut a swathe through Europe, he demanded of his defeated enemies their most valuable statues and paintings. In Italy, the young commander, with the guidance of French commissioners, stole with great taste, aiming for the most magnificent works of the High Renaissance – by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Veronese, as well as the Vatican’s celebrated collections of ancient sculpture. This unrivalled haul – from the great cities of Rome, Milan, Venice and, later Berlin and Vienna – was placed on triumphant display in the Louvre, the former palace of the French kings which Napoleon transformed into the greatest museum in the world – a museum that professedly belonged to the French people, but that also functioned as a monument to Napoleon’s power.

At the heart of this compelling book, Cynthia Saltzman's vivid narrative recounts the fate of Paolo Veronese's Wedding Feast at Cana, a vast, sublime canvas that the French tore from a wall of the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, on an island in Venice, in 1797. Painted in 1563, the Renaissance picture was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. Once pulled from the wall, the Venetian canvas crossed the Mediterranean rolled on a cylinder, packed among other masterpieces commandeered from Venice. These were triumphantly brought into Paris in a grand procession that featured spoils of Napoleon’s campaign, as well as exotic plants and caged animals. In 1801, the Veronese went on exhibition at the Louvre.

Cynthia Saltzman interweaves the stories of Napoleon’s military campaigns, and the treaties through which he obtained his loot, with the history of the plundered Veronese itself, exploring how this masterpiece came into being. As much as it is a story of military might, this is an account of one of the most ambitious cultural projects ever conducted. Using the story of Veronese's Feast the author offers reflections on the transfer of art between nations and the role played by art and by artists during Napoleon’s reign.

After Napoleon's 1815 defeat at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington and the Allies forced the French to return many of the Louvre's plundered paintings and sculptures. Nevertheless, The Wedding Feast at Cana remains in Paris to this day, hanging directly across from the Mona Lisa.

Cynthia Saltzman is the author of Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a Van Gogh Masterpiece and Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures. She was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and is the recipient of a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation.

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