Napoleon

Nov. 26th, 2010 11:14 pm
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I never cease to be amazed by the ignorance of antique dealers. I once saw a clock decorated with Cupid and Psyche described by the shop owner as 'two fairies'.

Here is an incredible item. It is marked Napoleon and Josephine (possibly). In that case who is the child? Some baby that happened to wander by accident into Fountaine Bleau? Did it not occur to them that the group shows Napoleon, his mother, and his Second wife Maria-Louisa and their son the King of Rome?

What occasioned this Napoleonic outburst?

I took Andrew today to see a traveling exhibit of Napoleana. It was alright, I suppose, since I didn't have to listen to the recorded description of the items as everyone else there seemed to do. I've never understood those. Instead I interpreted each item for Andrew--Though in retrospect, I fear, when we saw some images of the Bridge at Arcola, I told him the story of the bridge at Lodi (more interesting anyway). The exhibit featured two classes of item:  mass reproductions of official art made during the I Empire and nostalgia items from the II Empire (I am sure the curators considered these copies to be more 'valorizing of the bourgeois experience' than the originals), and personal items of well known people from the period: Napoleon's handkerchief, some state papers he doodled on, Marshal Davout's (or Davoust if you prefer) lawn chair. Many of the things were very nice, but I don't know what Andrew made of them--I had to spend a long time talking him out of the idea that every member of the Grande Armee was named Napoleon, evidently a myth that had grown up inside him because he once saw the word 'Napoleon's' before he knew the difference between the apostrophe and pluralizing s. I noticed one of the other viewers was staring at me while I named several of the Marshals from their portraits in an engraving of the David Coronation picture, and even Andrew asked how I could do that, but doesn't everyone know what they looked like?

One item, however, struck me as of exceptional beauty. This was a tea service that was in use by Josephine at Malmaison. Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera. They had three cups and the pot. The pot was simply a colored pattern, but each cup had a different silhouette illustration, described by the tag as 'mythological scenes'. Far from it. One cup did show a Maenad with thrysus, but the second showed a bull bending its head down to eat from a plate while 3 girls danced in the background, and the third showed a man raising an ax to swing at the bull's neck. The whole series must have shown the entire ritual of sacrifice step by step. Yet the effect was entirely calming and serene from the silhouette technique and the elegance of the posing of the figures. A very nice comparanda for the Grecian Urn Ode, I thought. I eagerly looked for reproductions of the set in the gift shop, but to no avail, just a kitsch version of the cocked hat and a $10 refrigerator magnet of the David portrait as First Consul. With less hope I looked on-line, bringing us full circle.

PS for Sherllock Holmes fans--the Bridge at Arcola print they had there was after the Vernet Painting, and they also had a Vernet sketch of one of Napoleon's sisters. 

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