Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast

Farrar. May 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780374219031. $30. Tr. HIST
In this latest work, journalist and author Saltzman (Portrait of Dr. Gachet) explores Napoleon’s expropriation of art during his conquests. After a fascinating overview of Venetian artworks, artists, patrons, techniques, and pigments, Saltzman highlights the prized massive masterpiece Wedding Feast at Cana, by Paolo Veronese. Commissioned for the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore and completed in 1563, the painting was cut from its home by the conquering French in 1797, then rolled up and shipped to France to be cut in two before it was lined and stitched back together. This and other spoils of war formed the basis of the Louvre, which was declared a public museum after the French Revolution introduced the idea that art belongs to the public, not monarchs or the church. Saltzman effectively explains how some artworks were returned to Venice after Napoleon’s downfall, though not the Veronese. It remains the largest painting in the Louvre and can be seen in digitized form by anyone with an internet connection.
VERDICT Readers with an interest in art history and those with an interest in stolen art piqued by Anne-Marie O’Connor’s The Lady in Gold will appreciate this well-researched and well-written history.
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