Wednesday, 4 March 2015

My Fascination With Hannibal And Napoleon

In 1989 the Museum of Antiquities received a beautiful bronze bust from Judge John C. Currelly of Port Hope, Ontario. At this time, the true identity of the bust was unknown, and the general consensus was that it was a French baroque bronze portrait of the Emperor Hadrian. However research done by the previous Museum Director Catherine Gunderson and Professor Paul Hamilton (Department of Art and Art History) revealed the portrait to be Hannibal, accomplished Carthaginian general and nemesis to the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE). Moreover, this sculpture is a 17th century CE French original crafted in the workshop of Francois Girardon (1628-1715). Girardon is best known for his position as a sculptor for King Louis XIV of France and primary contributor to the abundant artwork at the Palace of Versailles. Francois Souchal, Professor of Art History at the Paris West University Nanterre La Défense in France (now retired), a noted authority on 17th and 18th century French sculpture, verified the work as being a product of either Girardon himself or his protégé, Sebastien Slodtz (1655-1726), claiming the bust is “of great quality and certain authenticity.” The bust is unique to the Museum since no other casting of it exists. It appears in a set of engravings entitled La Galerie de Girardon by Nicolas Chevalier published in the 18th century.
Original bronze bust of Hannibal

While we know who the sculpture represents and who made it, an air of mystery had come with the bust when it was acquired. During the first round of research in the late 80s and early 90s, a secondary source mentioned that Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) owned a bronze bust of Hannibal. This initial research led to my interest and my follow up on the connection to Napoleon.
Napoleon Crossing the Great St. Bernard Pass
In August of 2014 we found evidence in the The Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Court of the First Empire by Baron Claude Francois Meneval (1778-1850) that Napoleon did in fact own a bronze bust of Hannibal, one of his military idols. Meneval was Napoleon’s private secretary from 1802-1813. In his memoir of Napoleon, Meneval describes the Chateau de Saint Cloud which was used by Bonaparte as a seat of power after 1804, and states that in Napoleon’s study there:
“his [Napoleon’s] usual place was on a settee, covered with green taffeta,
which stood near the mantelpiece, on which were two fine bronze busts of Scipio and Hannibal.” (pg. 174, volume 1)

           I believe that the bronze bust of Hannibal mentioned in the memoirs had to have been close to contemporary with Napoleon as Meneval did not call the busts of Scipio and Hannibal ‘antique’. Meneval makes a distinction in volume one between ancient and contemporary busts:
“the only ornament of the bedroom on the ground floor...was an antique bust of Caesar, which stood on the mantle piece.” (pg. 174)
“This drawing-room was also used for private audiences; it was decorated with a fine portrait of Charles XII [1682-1718].” (pg. 174)

       These few statements have lead me to believe that the bronze bust of Hannibal mentioned in the memoirs had to be contemporary, and since there is only one such piece created in the 17th century (which we have), ours must be the one Meneval is describing.

St. Cloud Chateau
As a next step, I feel that it is necessary to study the journey the bust took to arrive at the Museum of Antiquities all the way from Girardon’s 17th century workshop via the Chateau de Saint Cloud, to Edward Berwind’s New York residence (previous owner of the bust), and  to a New York auction house. I am continuing my research to find the links between these different places so that we can have a complete provenance of this bust.

This discovery shows the importance of the Museum of Antiquities in the academic and scholarly world, and the impact it can have on the wider community. The Museum can offer unique research opportunities for students and academics, which can be seen through the research done on this bust. With the collection of original artifacts growing, there is more potential for our knowledge of the past to grow and to share it with the world.

By: Helanna Miazga 

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