It’s funny how these posts come about. Because of the last post concluding the Three Graces series, I’ve had the Borghese Collection at the Louvre on my mind. However, there are so many places to start on this topic, and so many paths to stray to. A rocky relationship between Italy and France is certainly one (think the Italian Campaign of 1796-7, where Napoleon made his name), as is the actual collection of 695* incredible antiquities (the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, the Borghese Gladiator, the Three Graces, to name a few). Just how these antiquities got to the Louvre is worthy of a large part of Marie-Lou Fabréga-Dubert’s two-volume tome “La Collection Borghese au Musée Napoléon,” published jointly in 2009 by Musée du Louvre Editions and the publishing branch of the Beaux-Art de Paris. The NY Times reviewed it favourably here, and as with any good review the Times provides great morsels from the book.
Then there are the personalities — Napoleon has never been short on providing history with anecdotes, his brother-in-law Prince Camillo Borghese of the Roman nobility, is of course the source of the collection and then there’s Napoleon’s sister and Camillo’s wife, Pauline, whose salacious habits were already well established in her first marriage to General Leclerc (I believe “Bacchanalian Promiscuity” was attributed to her when she was in Haiti with General Leclerc).
And of course we can’t overlook the minor characters — minor to history, but with entire wings and courtyards named after them I guess “minor” is relative. Dominique-Vivant Denon (Director of Imperial Museums), and Ennio Quirino Visconti (“overseer” of Roman Antiquities at the Musée Napoléon — what’s now the Louvre), were responsible for the mammoth task of getting the antiquities from Rome to Paris – no easy feat when the British had an embargo in the Mediterranean which made the French travel overland. Denon, Sully, and Richelieu will certainly have their THATLou posts at one point or another (concerning both the wings as well as the colourful characters of French history). In one of my first posts I wrote about the Visconti courtyard, which is about to be all over the press when the new Islamic wing opens this September (supposedly – the opening’s been postponed for a few years).
PS/ I can’t seem to get to the bottom of just how many antiquities Napoleon (mmm, sorry, I mean the French State) bought from Borghese. Wikipedia, which of course isn’t to be trusted, says it’s 344 antiquities. A figure I’ve seen in other googled sources (who perhaps used wikipedia). When addressing the Borghese Kylix the Louvre’s website says Napoleon bought Borghese’s entire collection — which of course can’t be right as there’s a small museum with oh just a few Berninis on the Pincian Hill in Rome called the Villa Borghese (photographed above, where Denon and Visconti started their shipping process). So though I haven’t read Mme. Fabréga-Dubert’s 2-volumes, I have chosen to go with her figure of 695 pieces. If for no doubt because I’m from NY and trust the editors of the Times to at least quote her correctly.