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Philippe Costamagna: Napoleon's World of Art

Published on , by Sylvie Blin

The Director of the Fesch Palace Museum, curator of Ajaccio’s museums and authority on 16th-century Italian painting has written a fascinating book on Napoleon’s tastes, from Jacques-Louis David to the Trianon and the secrets of the Empire style.

© Palais Fesch / J.-J. Renucci Philippe Costamagna: Napoleon's World of Art

© Palais Fesch / J.-J. Renucci

The strategist and strongman are well known, but did Napoleon like or collect art? He wasn’t a collector , at least not for himself. His collection was his museum: he made art available for the French people to see. He didn’t have much of an aesthetic sense at first, but he was an avid reader since boyhood. That’s how his political and aesthetic ideas were shaped. At first, he wasn’t familiar with the works, which he discovered when he arrived in Italy without always having time to see them. He said he loved a painting by Correggio because it was worth a colossal amount of money: he’d never laid eyes on it. He mixed up Dutch and Flemish artists. He’d only been to Northern Italy on the Grand Tour. But he was aware of the gaps in his knowledge and tried to fill them. He had himself introduced to artists, took an interest in contemporary Italian intellectuals and met the young Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835) at an early age. The only thing he really acquired for himself was a small statuette of an Egyptian scribe. When he bought or looted works, he did it for the imperial palaces at the Tuileries, Saint-Cloud and especially the Louvre . His tastes…
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