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This book did something I didn't think could be done: it has given me qualms about my love for the Louvre. I've always loathed Napoleon, and knew in general how much looting of art he did for pure self-serving glory, but the details as revealed by Saltzman (former WSJ reporter and author of the excellent "The Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece," are specific and appalling.

Saltzman hangs the tale on the hook of Veronese's massive "Wedding at Cana" but includes a much wider range of art similarly commandeered by Bonaparte in his conquest of Europe: the four mighty bronze horses from San Marco in Venice; Vatican sculptures of Apollo Belvidere, the Laocoon, and the Belvedere Torso (considered the finest extant examples of classical sculpture at that time); the so-called "liberation" of paintings by Rubens from the country where he painted them, and much more. Basically, these smaller nations, principalities, duchies, et al. were told either they hand over the works selected by Bonaparte's art-expert cronies, or the Napoleonic forces would destroy them. Or Napoleon would crush them militarily first, then demand specific art works as the price of defeat. The art was gathered, packed, and carted back to Paris to be housed in the Louvre for the glory of France and (more importantly) of Napoleon (the museum was briefly renamed for him at that time). It's a long, complicated story with a multifarious cast of toadies, henchmen, conflicted experts, and desperate diplomats under the thumb of a tyrant. I lapped it up.

That said, the book suffers a bit from too many threads and too many actors being woven into a sometimes lumpy and hard-to-follow pattern. Historical background skips forward and back, and ranges from Napoleon's battles, the structure of the Venetian Republic, two different Metternichs, Josephine Beauharnais's lovers, and of course many artists and works of art in numerous countries. There are a few color photos of some of the artwork discussed, and a number of small black-and-white images that are so murky as to be hardly worth the inclusion. I did enjoy some of the images of the elegantly hand-written "shopping lists": "One painting by Titian... one painting by Paul Veronese..." Once Saltzman settles into the particular travails of the great Veronese wedding feast masterpiece, it becomes a more coherent and compelling tale. Poor wonder that it was: torn (literally) from the wall where it had hung for over 200 years, cut apart, rolled up, unrolled, relined, repaired, rehung several times... and it is still in the Louvre because it simply is too big, too old, and too fragile to travel again. It should be noted that after Napoleon's downfall, many artworks were repatriated, but a lot of them stayed put and remain in the galleries of the Louvre. When Wellington was through in Spain, it must be said, a lot of Velasquez ended up (and is still) on British walls. This art, it's a messy business.

The Veronese wedding is now forced to share a room with a picture of a muddy-skinned, smirking woman painted by someone called Leonardo. I hope this book will get a few people to turn and aim their cellphones at the sumptuous feast on the other wall.

A few interesting side notes: Bonaparte was quite excited to commission a painting by an ambitious young painter named Gros, commemorating Bonaparte's photo-op visit to a plague hospital in Jaffa (now part of Tel Aviv) while en route to Syria. Many French soldiers died of the plague. Napoleon downplayed it, called it "just a fever," and claimed that only those who were afraid would die of it, so he marched into the hospital, spoke to the suffering living among the corpses, and left again. How heartening... His great ambition, of course, was to create a united Europe, with a single set of laws, a single currency, sharing trade and culture (with him as the head of it all, of course). The one country which was to be excluded was... Britain. Huh. I guess we'll see how well this idea plays out, over two hundred years later, yes?
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JulieStielstra | 2 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jul 6, 2021 |
For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: https://www.ManOfLaBook.com

Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast by Cynthia Saltzman is a historical account of the way Napoleon Bonaparte plundered art during his conquests for the Louvre. Ms. Saltzman is a published author, focusing on late 19th century art.

A fascinating book about Napoleon‘s war and conquests weaponizing some of Europe’s most important artworks. The focus of the book is mainly The Wedding Feast at Cana, a large painting by Paolo Veronese. The painting, commissioned in 1562 by Benedictine monks at the San Giorgio Monastery in Venice, Italy. It was considered a masterpiece of unparalleled beauty.

This book combines politics, history and art history. Besides books about art theft during World War II, I never read any others which deal with the subject. I found Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast by Cynthia Saltzman to be an interesting primer of the time. Fascinating as well was the effort it took for artists not only to paint, but to make their own supplies.

I read this book as a e-galley, but I often had to stop to search for the paintings mentioned in the book. We live in wonderful times where most of the most magnificent and significant artworks in history are available to view, for free, with a few stokes on the keyboard. From experience I know it’s not even close to view the originals, but for my purposes it was good enough.

Ms. Saltzman finishes the book bringing the reader to current times, in the context of the title paintings. While it still resides in the Louvre, it is displayed opposite of the Mona Lisa, and does not get the recognition it deserves. The only time it moved was during World War II when the Nazis looted artwork throughout. This painting was never meant to be moved, but it did several times and is now put together in a way which does not make it moveable at all.

This book has many facets. The subject might be just one painting, but it also tells of the history of the time, military tactics, art history, and religious and regional politics. The author managed to find a fine balance, educating and information without confusing.
Bonus points for quoting War & Peace in context.
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ZoharLaor | 2 muuta kirja-arvostelua | May 28, 2021 |
The United States is a young nation. In contrast to the hundreds and thousands of years of accumulated history and art in Europe and Asia, the Americans had to start from scratch in building cultural institutions and collections. A big contribution to the great art institutions created in the United States was made by the robber barons of the 19th century. In contrast to many nouveaux riches today, the old US robber barons showed rather good taste and appreciation for the Old Masters (and disdain for most then contemporary art). Just at the moment when European nobles made their exit from the stage of history selling off their collections to the Americans (and also giving them their daughters in marriage, cf. Churchill), the American plutocrats were able and eager to spend big bucks for the big names of Rembrandt and Raphael. The US government then had a very effective 30% import duty on art master works. Every time a robber baron brought some treasure into America, he also contributed a good sum in taxes to the public purse - an excellent transaction tax.

This book offers nice vignettes of some of the art-stricken robber barons such as Henry Marquand, Pierpont Morgan, Harry Havemeyer and Isabella Stewart Granger as the lone woman among the pack with considerable but more limited means than the rest. In Europe, intermediaries were quick to service and fleece the new money. They had the expertise, the insider knowledge and the connections to uncover works that officially were not for sale but for the right price would be available for the journey across the Atlantic. The First World War ended the first gilded age. A follow-up on the next wave of Americans in Europe (of those palling around with F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 20s and 30s) would be a worthy task.
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jcbrunner | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Apr 30, 2015 |
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, wealthy Americans such as J Pierpont Morgan, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry Clay Frick, and the Havemeyer family bought a lot of really wonderful old art from Europe. Changes in British tax laws and economic woes caused paintings that had been hanging in aristocratic houses for hundreds of years to go on the market in a large number. The wealthy Americans were looking to build up their personal collections and donate to museums (like the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Today the majority of the art is hanging in museums to be enjoyed by everyone.

Why this is called "a raid," I'm not sure. The paintings were all bought--not stolen--and the owners were paid well. Museums all over the world are full of art from other countries. Saltzman talks about this a few times as a simple fact, but doesn't explain why it's a problem.

This is a topic that I find interesting, but the book itself is disappointing. Meticulously researched, the author includes every detail imaginable about each stage of the negotiations. In doing so, she completely sacrifices the narrative. There are interesting bits throughout, but it reads in a very choppy way and is difficult to follow. It's a lot of minutia that doesn't add up to much.
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Nickelini | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Aug 8, 2012 |

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