Contributor: Hélène Cussac
Location: Collection Baronne et Baron François Duesberg, Musée François Duesberg, Mons, Belgium/Private Collection, France.
Description: Paul et Virginie, the novella by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, published in 1788 and a best-seller throughout the 19th Century, was particularly celebrated by the decorative arts. Saint-Pierre’s pastorale, which speaks of moral values such as innocence, virtue, charity, the family and work, corresponded perfectly to the bourgeois values developed at the end of the ‘Ancien Régime’. It catered also on the one hand to a pronounced taste for the exotic, which the story offered thanks to its setting in the natural countryside of the Île de France (Mauritius) and, on the other, to contemporary interest in the concept of the ‘noble savage’ as represented by the enslaved Africans, actors in the fiction. Hence fans, plates, screens, magic lanterns, armchairs and sofas covered in toile de Jouy, and wallpapers were decorated with episodes from the novel. From the period of the Directoire, through the Empire and the Restoration, one ornamental object was particularly fashionable : the clock, decorated with characters in the story. This remarkable clock was ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 with a view to gifting it to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre himself.
Continue reading “Two French clocks depicting Paul et Virginie“
Contributor: David Taylor
Location: The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Description: At a glance, this looks like a standard early nineteenth-century playbill. But it’s not. In fact, it’s a nationalistic broadside published during the invasion scare of the summer of 1803 – when it was widely feared that Napoleon was readying a fleet to cross the English Channel – and it closely mimics the typographic format and language of the playbill to make its point. The work of arch-loyalist James Asperne – who ran a bookshop in Cornhill, London, with the strikingly unsubtle name of The Bible, Crown, and Constitution – this mock-playbill informs the public of a new pantomime “In rehearsal” at the “Theatre Royal of the United Kingdom” – that is, a drama to be staged in and by the nation itself. “Some dark foggy night about November next,” the playbill exclaims, “will be ATTEMPTED, by a Strolling Company of French Vagrants, an old Pantomimic Farce, called Harlequin’s Invasion or The Disappointed Banditti”.
Continue reading “Harlequin’s Invasion, 1803”
Contributor: Diego Saglia and Francesca Sandrini
Location: Salone delle Feste, tavolo 3; Museo Glauco Lombardi, Parma.
Description: This object, a commonplace book, speaks to a number of questions: What did a European female ruler from the Romantic period read? And how did she respond to the works? And was this reading also a creative, ‘writerly’ act?
Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla from the Congress of Vienna (1814/15) to her death in 1847, was a keen reader who kept several diaries, akin both to English commonplace books and the French practice of extraits et mélanges. There she transcribed longer and shorter extracts from the books she read, as well as her own observations and reflections. This commonplace book in our exhibition is the most significant and representative of them. This kind of artefact was in fact a relatively common phenomenon among women (and men) of the middle and upper classes all around Europe; yet, this specific example offers insights into a woman whose life blended public and private aspects, officialdom and intimacy, in peculiar and significant ways. Mixing reading and writing, reception and creation, Marie Louise’s commonplace book may be argued to be ultimately a vehicle for authoring both one’s own book and, in turn, one’s own Romantic self.
Continue reading “The Commonplace Book of Marie Louise of Austria, Duchess of Parma”
Contributor: Asker Pelgrom
Location: along the provincial road N330 between Hummelo and Zelhem (The Netherlands), 52°00’25.1″N 6°15’12.8″E
Description: In the rural area of the Achterhoek, in the eastern part of the Netherlands, along the provincial road between the villages of Hummelo and Zelhem, travellers encounter a nineteenth-century farmhouse carrying a fascinating legend: ’18 Maloï Jaroslawitz 60’. To military historians, this name immediately rings a bell: it refers to the battle of Maloyaroslavets that took place on the 24th of October 1814, between the Russian army commanded by Marshal Kutusov and parts of the corps of Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s stepson, under General Delzons. Five days earlier, Napoleon had evacuated Moscow and marched south with his Grande Armée, De Beauharnais leading the advance. The bloody battle (10.000 casualties) ended in victory for the mainly French and Italian forces. However, Kutusov’s deliberate retreat forced Napoleon northward, a direction he had wished to avoid. We all know the dramatic outcome. In a way, Maloyaroslavets thus marked the beginning of the end of the Grande Armée. But why does a rural farmhouse in the Netherlands carry this name? And why do many other farms in the same area bear other names that refer to Napoleon’s Russian campaign and the battles fought in its aftermath: Jena (1851), Bautzen (1852), Lützen (1854), Montmirail (1856, since 1943 called Grevenkamp), Beresina (1857), Düben (1858) and Briënne (1860)? The colours of the painted shutters point to the answer.
Continue reading “A Farm called ‘Maloi Jaroslawitz’, or, A Dutch Melancholy Hussar”
Contributor: Jorge Bastos da Silva
Location: Casa-Museu Medeiros e Almeida, Lisbon
Description: This state-of-the-art pocket watch was commissioned by General Jean-Andoche Junot, the commander of the first invasion of Portugal by Napoleon’s armies, from the famous Swiss clockmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. After Junot’s death, the watch was sold back to Breguet and eventually came into possession of Junot’s enemy, the Duke of Wellington, as a gift from a comrade-in-arms. The watch thus suffered radical repurposing by a roundabout way, becoming a virtual war trophy. Its story points to the relevance of tracing the transit of objects to understanding the social and material culture of the Romantic period.
Continue reading “The Junot-Wellington Watch”
Location: Horse Guards, London, United Kingdom
Contributor: Ian Haywood
Description: This strange-looking, even kitsch object stands in a corner of Horse Guards, next to St James’s Park in London. For all its garish and even comic appearance, it is actually Britain’s only public monument to the Peninsular war. It was first unveiled in 1816, but its genesis began in 1812 with the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Salamanca. One consequence of this battle was that Napoleonic forces withdrew from the two-year siege of Cadiz, seat of the Spanish Cortes and the new liberal constitution. To celebrate this liberation, the Cortes gave a huge French mortar as a gift to the Prince Regent (later George IV), requesting only that it be displayed in a public place. The Prince duly obliged and commissioned the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich to build a suitable carriage. Four years and an immense expenditure later, the Cadiz ‘bomb’, as it soon became known, was shown to the public on the Prince’s birthday. Continue reading “The Cadiz Bomb”