MONUMENTS MEN OF 1815
After the 2014 film The Monuments Men (starring George Clooney and Matt Damon), attention focused on the return of many art objects to their original homes after their looting by Nazi troops. Even more attention arose after the story of the Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren, about the return of the 1907 Klimt painting in 2006.
The Nazis were hardly the first victorious troops to steal great cultural artifacts from subjugated societies. It certainly was usual, even expected, to find treasures from a conquered people in the hands of their conquerors. But one might say Napoleon Bonaparte helped himself to more than had been usual when he confiscated many works of art in Europe and Egypt.
Napoleon’s troops, or perhaps the future emperor himself, confiscated this treasured work of Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio, during the French occupation of Italy. Returned to Italy in 1815, it can be seen in Parma’s national gallery. It was originally painted as an altarpiece in the 1520’s for a chapel in Parma’s Church of Sant’Antonio Abate.
Napoleon’s troops also seized the Quadriga, four horses from the front of St. Mark’s in Venice and brought it to Paris where it was placed on top pf the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, built to commemorate Napoleon’s triumphs.
|Basilica of San Marco, Venice
The Venetians had stolen the figures from Istanbul in the 13th century; nevertheless, the Quadriga was returned to Venice in 1815.
Due to the effects of air pollution on the statue, the “original” is now in a museum. A replica replaces it on St. Mark’s.
The title Quadriga is derived form the Latin words for ‘four’ and ‘yoke’. As originally sculpted by the or the Greeks, statues of four horses drawing a chariot with a triumphal figure, usually depicting peace, can frequently be found on monumental arches.
Above is the Quadriga created for the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Paris, to replace the Venetian version. This one was “in honor” of the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy to France after Napoleon.
The famous Brandenburg Gate, built in the reign of Frederick William of Prussia, was constructed by Carl Gotthard Langhans from 1788 to 1791. Shortly thereafter it was crowned by a Quadriga of Victory by Johann Gottfried Schadow. In 1806, the Quadriga was stolen by Napoleon and taken to Paris. It was returned by Prussian General Gebhard von Blucher in 1814 after Napoleon’s first exile.The Iron Cross added to the sculpture’s laurel wreath of peace was an object of contention at various points in time, removed by East Germany but restored after German reunification in 1990.
London’s Wellington Museum in Apsley House is the home of many fine paintings stolen from museums in Madrid by Napoleon’s brother and puppet king of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte. When the Duke of Wellington’s forces overran the French troops at the Battle of Vitoria in June, 1813, Joseph escaped but left behind his baggage train containing hundreds of artworks he had looted. The Duke rescued the works and sent them to London for preservation from the war in the Peninsula. Under the care of the Duke’s brother, the works were preserved and re-framed. After the war when Spanish King Ferdinand VII was restored to his throne, Wellington offered to return the works to Madrid. Instead, in thanks for the Duke’s efforts on behalf of the Spanish people, the King gave a significant number of the artworks to the Duke. Many now hang in Apsley House, London. Here are a few examples.
Three canvasses formerly attributed to Titian’s studio were recently cleaned and conserved, revealing them to be the actual work of Titian himself. For a guide to these three paintings, click here.