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

Cynthia Saltzman


‘A fascinating and deeply rewarding book’ Adam Zamoyski, Daily Telegraph

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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.

It centres on the story of Napoleon’s theft of Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana, a vast, sublime canvas that in 1797 the French army tore from a wall of the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Feast was just one of Napoleon’s spoils of war, which he claimed for the French nation and displayed in a public museum – the Louvre. He filled the former palace of the French kings with his acquisitions, and Europe flocked to Paris and hailed the Louvre as the greatest museum in the world. Did he take it for himself? Or for France? Or for the world at large?

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.

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'A fascinating and deeply rewarding book, which is underpinned by wide research and an impressive grasp of techniques and technicalities … A delight to read'
Adam Zamoyski, Daily Telegraph

'A compelling account of the fragility of beauty before avarice … Saltzman’s thrilling blend of historical narrative and art criticism is fitting testimony to its enduring greatness'
Paul Lay, The Times

Andrew Marr, Andrew Marr, Start the Week, R4

'[Saltzman’s] perceptive book traces Napoleon’s systematic gathering of artistic treasures as he conquered Italy, focusing on Veronese’s masterpiece … An absorbing story of conflict and culture'
The Economist

'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'
Jonathan Keates, Literary Review

'[An] absorbing and chilling narrative'
The Times, Art Books of the Year 2021

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Size: 19.8 x 12.9 cm

Extent: 320 pp

Publication date: 12 May 2022

ISBN: 9780500296721

Contents List

Introduction: “The theft of Veronese’s Feast”
1. “Send Me a List of the Pictures, Statues, Cabinets and Curiosities.”
2. “Do Not Fear the French Armies Will Not Respect Venetian Neutrality.”
3. “Master Paolo ... Will ... Not Spare Any Expense for the Finest Ultramarine.”
4. “He is Rich in Plans.”
5. “The Museum Must Demonstrate the Nation’s Great Riches.”
6. “Draw as Much as You Can from Venetian Territory.”
7. “The Pope will Deliver ... One Hundred Paintings Busts, Vases or Statues.”
8. “I’m on a Path a Thousand Times More Glorious.”
9. “The Republic of Venice will Surrender... 20 Paintings and 600 Manuscripts.”
10. “In the Church of S. George, No. 6. The Wedding Feast at Cana.”
11. “We ... Have Received from Citizen Pietro Edwards.”
12. “The Safest Way is to Send Them on a Frigate with 32 Canons.”
13. “The Seam will be Unstitched.”
14. “The Revolution ... is Finished.”
15. “You Enter a Gallery—such a gallery. But such a gallery!!!” Louvre 1801-1802
16. “This One Besides Nature Doesn’t Look to Have Been Painted.”
17. “The Transparency of Air ... Place[s] Gros beside Tintoretto and Paul Veronese”
18. “This Beautiful Work Reminds Us of the Picture by Paul Veronese.”
19. “I Succeeded ... in Packing Most of the Pieces of Small Size and Great Value.”
20. “The Only Thing to Do Is to Burn Them!”
21. “This Foreboding Painting... Seems to Summon the Eye from All Directions.”
22. “The Masterpieces of the Arts Now Belong to Us.”
23. “We Are At Last Beginning to Drag Forth from This Great Cavern of Stolen Goods the Precious Objects of Art.”
Epilogue: Veronese 2020

About the Author

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 has also written for Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.

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