Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast

Cynthia Saltzman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-21903-1
Art historian Saltzman (Old Masters, New World) provides a rich account of Napoleon’s looting of Italian masterpieces as he battled the Austrian Empire across Italy in the late 18th century. Saltzman focuses on Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana, a large-format painting depicting the Venetian Republic at the height of its powers, which in Saltzman’s view was emblematic of the scale of Napoleon’s ambition, both for his military campaigns and the Louvre, where it still hangs. Saltzman unearths fascinating details about the painting, including the contractual terms Veronese agreed to in 1562, his use of “the rarest and most costly blue” to paint the sky above the feast, the way it caught the light in the Benedictine refectory where it hung for two centuries until Napoleon plundered it, and the efforts French archivists undertook to keep it out of Nazi hands during WWII. The author’s descriptions of Napoleon’s military and diplomatic campaigns don’t have the same energy and insight as the book’s art history. Still, this is a rewarding look at the legacy of wartime art theft and the turbulent life of an Italian masterpiece. (May)
Reviewed on : 10/16/2020
Release date: 03/16/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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