Showing posts with label Napoleon Bonaparte. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Napoleon Bonaparte. Show all posts

8 November 2023

Andrea Appiani - painter

The master of the fresco technique became court painter to Napoleon

Appiani fell into poverty at the end of  his life despite his notable career
Appiani fell into poverty at the end of 
his life despite his notable career
Neoclassical artist Andrea Appiani, who was chosen to paint for the Emperor Napoleon during the time in which he ruled Italy, died on this day in 1817 in Milan.

He is remembered for his fine portraits of some of the famous people of the period, including Napoleon, the Empress Joséphine, and the poet, Ugo Foscolo. He is also well regarded for his religious and classical frescoes.

Born in Milan in 1754, Appiani was intended for a career in medicine, to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he went into the private academy of the painter Carlo Maria Guidici instead, where he received instruction in drawing and copying from sculpture and paintings.

He then joined the class of the fresco painter Antonio de Giorgi at the Ambrosiana picture gallery in Milan and he spent time in the studio of Martin Knoller where he learnt more about painting in oils.

Appiani also studied anatomy at the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan with the sculptor Gaetano Monti and travelled to Rome, Parma, Bologna, Florence and Naples to further his studies.

He became interested in aesthetic issues, inspired by the classical poet Giuseppe Parini, who was the subject of two fine pencil portraits by him.

Appiani's magnificent portrait of  Napoleon Bonaparte, painted in 1805
Appiani's magnificent portrait of
 Napoleon Bonaparte, painted in 1805
Appiani attended the Brera Academy of Fine Arts from 1776 where he learnt the technique of fresco painting. His frescoes depicting the four evangelists in the church of Santa Maria presso San Celso, in Milan, completed in 1795, are considered by art experts to be among his masterpieces.

He is also remembered for his frescoes in the Royal Villa - Villa Reale - of Milan and his frescoes honouring Napoleon in some of the rooms of the Royal Palace of Milan.

Appiani was created a pensioned artist to the Kingdom of Italy by Napoleon, but lost his allowance after the fall of the kingdom in 1814, and he later fell into poverty. He suffered a stroke and died at the age of 63 in the city of his birth.

He is sometimes referred to as Andrea Appiani the Elder, to distinguish him from his great nephew, Andrea Appiani, who was an historical painter in Rome.

Appiani’s portrait of the poet Foscolo, a revolutionary who supported Napoleon’s attempts to expel the Austrians from Italy, hangs in the Pinacoteca di Brera, his 1805 portrait of Napoleon is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, while that of the Empress Joséphine hangs at the Château de Malmaison, her former home in Paris and and Napoleon's last residence in France.

The Pinocoteca di Brera is also home to the self-portrait of Appiani shown here.

The Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan is one of Italy's most prestigious art schools
The Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan is
one of Italy's most prestigious art schools
Travel tip:

The Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, sometimes shortened to Accademia di Brera, where Andrea Appiani studied, is now a state-run tertiary public academy of fine arts in Via Brera in Milan, in a building it shares with the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan's main public museum for art. The academy was founded in 1776 by Maria Theresa of Austria and shared its premises with other cultural and scientific institutions. The main building, the Palazzo Brera, was built in about 1615 to designs by Francesco Maria Richini.  The Brera district is so named because in around the ninth century, for military purposes, it was turned into a ‘brayda’ – a Lombardic word meaning ‘an area cleared of trees’.  Today, it is one of Milan’s most fashionable neighbourhoods, its narrow streets lined with trendy bars and restaurants. As the traditional home of many artists and writers, the area has a Bohemian feel that has brought comparisons with Montmartre in Paris. 

The Villa Reale, which faces the Giardini Pubblici of Porta Venezia, contains notable Appiani frescoes
The Villa Reale, which faces the Giardini Pubblici
of Porta Venezia, contains notable Appiani frescoes
Travel tip:

Milan’s Villa Reale, which at times has been known as the Villa Belgiojoso Bonaparte and the Villa Comunale,was built between 1790 and 1796 as the residence of Count Ludovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso, an Austrian diplomat and soldier who served the Habsburg monarchy in the second half of the 18th century. The mediaeval castle of Belgioioso, a town around 40km (25 miles) south of Milan in the province of Pavia, had been the seat of the Belgiojoso family for centuries. His villa, built in Neoclassical style and designed by Leopoldo Pollack, an Austrian-born architect, is on Via Palestro, facing the Giardini Pubblici of Porta Venezia, the eastern gate of the city.  In 1920 the villa became the property of the city of Milan and a year later became the home of the Galleria d'Arte Moderna. Adjoining the main building is the Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, an exhibition space for contemporary art, which was built in 1955 on the site of the former stables of the palace, destroyed by wartime bombing.  The villa’s English-style gardens were also laid out by Leopoldo Pollack.

Also on this day:

1830: The death of Francis I of the Two Sicilies

1931: The birth of film director Paolo Taviani

1936: The birth of actress Virna Lisi

1942: The birth of footballer Sandro Mazzola

1979: The birth of child actor Salvatore Cascio

1982: The birth of golfer Francesco Molinari



10 September 2022

The wedding of Stefano Türr and Adelina Bonaparte

Hungarian General married Napoleon’s beautiful great niece

Türr switched sides after witnessing Austrian cruelty against Italian troops
Türr switched sides after witnessing
Austrian cruelty against Italian troops
The wedding of a Hungarian soldier who fought alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi to a woman who was the great niece of Napoleon Bonaparte took place on this day in 1861 in Mantua in Lombardy.

The bridegroom was Stefano Türr - Istvan Türr in Hungarian - a soldier, revolutionary, canal architect and engineer, who is remembered in Italy for the role he played in the battle for the country’s unification.

Türr took a major part in the Expedition of the Thousand and was promoted to General, commanding Italian troops as they moved north from Sicily to Salerno. He was appointed Governor of Salerno by Garibaldi. Victor Emanuel II made him an aide de camp and entrusted him with sensitive diplomatic matters.

The bride was Adelina Bonaparte Wyse, who was a cousin of Napoleon III of France and granddaughter of Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s brother. 

Türr had been accepted into the Austrian Army at the age of 17, but while stationed in Lombardy in 1848 had witnessed the cruel reprisals taken against rebellious Italians at Monza and changed his loyalties.

In 1849 he crossed a bridge over the Ticino river and joined the Piedmont side. He was placed in charge of other Hungarian soldiers who had deserted and led them during the First Italian War of Independence.

Türr married Adelina Bonaparte at a ceremony in Mantua
Türr married Adelina Bonaparte
at a ceremony in Mantua
After the final Austrian victory at Novara, it was decided to abandon the Hungarian legion. But Türr’s men voted to stay together and continue to fight anyway. Many years of difficulties and disappointments were to follow for Türr, who had to move between Switzerland, France, England and Piedmont because he would have been executed as a deserter if he returned to Hungary.

During the Crimean War he raised  a force of Hungarian exiles to fight against Russia. When he was sent to an area occupied by Austria, he was arrested, court martialled and sentenced to death. There were strong British protests, even involving Queen Victoria, and instead the Austrians banished him from their territory perpetually. Türr returned to Italy to fight in the Second Italian war of Independence and joined Garibaldi’s volunteer unit. He was dubbed the ‘Fearless Hungarian’ after chasing the Austrians near Brescia and being badly wounded.

Türr’s wife, Adelina, was the daughter of Princess Maria Letizia Bonaparte, the daughter of Napoleon’s brother, Lucien. Her legal father was Sir Thomas Wyse, the British Minister to Athens, but Princess Maria Letizia had previously separated from him and she was really fathered by Captain Studholme John Hodgson, her mother’s lover.

Also in 1861, Adelina’s sister, Laetitia Marie, married Urbano Rattazzi, who served as Italian prime minister during the 1860s.

Türr was alongside Garibaldi as he launched his Expedition of the Thousand in 1860
Türr was alongside Garibaldi as he launched
his Expedition of the Thousand in 1860
With the help of Adelina, Türr wrote to Prince Napoleon, the Emperor’s cousin and advisor, on behalf of the Italian cause. The prince was known to be an opponent of the policy of letting French troops preserve the Pope’s temporal power over Rome.

Victor Emmanuel of Savoy had been declared King of the newly unified Italy in 1861 by the first Italian parliament, which had also named Rome as the capital of the new kingdom, even though they had still not gained control of the city.

A French garrison had remained in Rome on the orders of Napoleon III in support of Pope Pius IX, to appease fervent French Catholics.

But in 1870, after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon III had to withdraw many of his troops. Crack infantry soldiers from Piedmont led by General Raffaele Cadorna seized their chance and after a brief bombardment entered Rome through a breach in the Aurelian Walls near Porta Pia. Victor Emanuel II was able to take up residence in the Quirinale Palace, Italy was declared officially united and the Risorgimento was finally over.  

Victor Emanuel II had previously written to the Pope offering a proposal that would have allowed the Italian army to enter Rome peacefully, but the pope had rejected this.

Pope Pius IX and his successors refused to recognise the right of Italian Kings to reign over what had been formerly known as the Papal States. It was not until the Lateran Treaty of 1929 that ‘the Roman question’ was settled by establishing Vatican City as an independent state.

In 1862, Türr acquired a villa in Pallanza with a garden facing Lake Maggiore. He and his wife Adelina became popular with the local people, Türr helping labourers with donations and becoming honorary president of the Società Operaia di Pallanza, while Adelina visited children in the local orphanages. Türr and Adelina had one son, Raoul, who was born in 1865. They enjoyed long holidays at their villa, often recorded in the local newspaper, which praised Adelina’s beauty.

In the 1870s Türr became a peace activist, regularly attending Peace Congresses and saying he now detested war.

The Piazza Mantegna is at the Renaissance heart of Mantua, where the couple were married
The Piazza Mantegna is at the Renaissance
heart of Mantua, where the couple were married
Travel tip:

Mantua, where Türr married Adelina, is an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, to the southeast of Milan. In the Renaissance heart of Mantua is Piazza Mantegna, where the 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea houses the tomb of the artist, Andrea Mantegna. The church was originally built to accommodate the large number of pilgrims who came to Mantua to see a precious relic, an ampoule containing what were believed to be drops of Christ’s blood mixed with earth. This was claimed to have been collected at the site of his crucifixion by a Roman soldier. The highlight of the city is the Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707. The Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, depicting the life of Ludovico Gonzaga and his family in the 15th century. The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture.

The waterfront at Pallanza on Lake Maggiore, where Stefano Türr bought a villa
The waterfront at Pallanza on Lake Maggiore,
where Stefano Türr bought a villa
Travel tip:

Türr bought a villa at Pallanza on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Piedmont as a holiday home for himself and his wife. It had been built in the 1850s by Bernardino Branca, the inventor of Fernet Branca, with gardens facing the lake. The family spent long holidays there, but after Türr was allowed to return to Hungary, they visited less and he sold the villa in 1876. It is now called Villa Rusconi Clerici. Türr returned to visit Pallanza many times afterwards and in 1888, when he became a naturalised Italian, it was recorded on the document that he lived in Pallanza.  

Also on this day:

1887: The birth of politician Giovanni Gronchi

1890: The birth of fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli

1930: The birth of holocaust survivor Liliana Segre 

1960: Historic victory at Rome Olympics


14 May 2021

Ludovico Manin - the last Doge of Venice

Surrender to Napoleon ended La Serenissima’s independence 

Ludovico Manin was Doge of Venice from 1789 until its fall in 1797
Ludovico Manin was Doge of Venice
from 1789 until its fall in 1797 
The man who would become the last of Venice’s 120 Doges, Ludovico Giovanni Manin, was born on this day in 1725.

The Doge was the highest political office in Venice, its history going back to the seventh century, when the Venetian Lagoon was a province of the Byzantine (Eastern) Roman Empire and, in common with other provinces, was governed by a Dux (leader).

By the 11th century, when Venice had become an independent republic, the Doge was more of a figurehead, the head of a ruling council, and the title tended to be given to one of the oldest and most respected members of Venetian nobility.

Manin was 64 by the time he was elected but his eight years in post were significant in that they ended with the fall of La Serenissima - as the Venetian Republic was grandly known -its 1,100 years of independence ending with surrender to the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte, who subsequently handed control of the city to Austria.

The eldest of five sons of Lodovico III Alvise and Lucrezia Maria Basadonna, the great-granddaughter of cardinal Pietro Basadonna, Ludovico went straight into public life after completing his studies at the University of Bologna.

At 26 he was elected captain of Vicenza, then of Verona and finally Brescia, before being appointed procurator de ultra of Saint Mark's Basilica in 1764. 

Noted for his generosity, honesty and kindness as a governor, he married Elisabetta Grimani in 1748 but the marriage produced no children. 

The conclave of the Venetian Grand Council at which Ludovico Manin formally abdicated
The conclave of the Venetian Grand Council at
which Ludovico Manin formally abdicated
Despite his own failing health, he was elected Doge in March, 1789, a few months before the start of the French Revolution. Although Venice was even then regarded as a playground for the rich, its own wealth had been in decline for some years, and Manin had to oversee policies designed to reduce the republic’s financial obligations.

These included cutting the size of Venice’s merchant and military fleets to the degree that when Napoleon’s series of empire-building wars reached Italy, it was clear that Venice would be unable to defend itself.  Manin declined to enter the coalition of Italian states formed to counter Napoleon’s advance in 1795 and Venice declared itself neutral.

However, Napoleon had signed a secret deal with Austria, his most powerful rival for European dominance, to cede control of Venice to Austria in exchange for territories in the Netherlands, which meant he ignored Venice’s neutrality and came after the city anyway.

Manin refused an ultimatum from the French to surrender and on 25 April, 1797, the French fleet arrived at the Lido. Venice responded by sinking one of the French vessels but with only seven warships of their own to call on, the prospects for defending the city were remote and the French needed no second bidding to launch an attack.

The reaction of Manin and the Venetian Grand Council was to pass a motion to dissolve the republic and put the city under French rule.  After all the formalities of the surrender were completed, 4,000 French soldiers entered the city on 16 May and staged a parade in Piazza San Marco - St Mark's Square.

The Manin Chapel at the church of the Scalzi in Venice
The Manin Chapel at the church
of the Scalzi in Venice
It was a humiliation for Venice, the first time that foreign troops had set foot in the city, but worse was to come. Despite having agreed to hand Venice to the Austrians, Napoleon first wanted to help himself to its treasures and triggered a large-scale looting operation by his troops, who also destroyed what remained of the Venetian fleet and the Venice Arsenal.

Manin, meanwhile, was offered the chance to become interim head of the new Venice but refused, returning the ducal insignia and withdrawing to Palazzo Dolfin Manin, his residence on the Grand Canal.

It was a lonely life. He refused to answer the door even to friends and his meek surrender to the French did not go down well with Venetians, who jeered and insulted him when he ventured out.

Manin died of heart problems in October, 1802. His remains were interred in the family tomb, in a chapel designed by Jacopo Antonio Pozzo, in the Church of the Scalzi in Venice, near the present railway station of Venice Santa Lucia.

The Palazzo Dolfin Manin is now an office of the Banca d'Italia
The Palazzo Dolfin Manin is now
an office of the Banca d'Italia
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Dolfin Manin, the home of Ludovico Manin, is a 16th century palace on the Grand Canal, a short distance from the Rialto Bridge in the sestiere San Marco. It was built in 1536 for the Dolfin family by the great Florentine architect Jacopo Sansovino, whose work in Venice includes the Biblioteca Marciana, opposite the Doge’s Palace in Piazzetta San Marco, which connects St Mark’s Square with the waterfront. Sansovino created the palace by merging two existing structures and adding a facade in white Istrian stone with a portico of six arches. Inside are works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, who decorated the palace for the wedding of Ludovico Manin and Elisabetta Grimani. The palace remained in the possession of the Manin family until 1867, when it was bought by the Banca Nazionale del Regno, forerunner of the Banca d’Italia, which still has its Venice headquarters in the building.

The Chiesa degli Scalzi fronts on to the Grand Canal near the railway station
The Chiesa degli Scalzi fronts on to
the Grand Canal near the railway station
Travel tip:

The Chiesa degli Scalzi, site of the Manin family tomb and Ludovico’s final resting place, can be found immediately next to Venice’s Santa Lucia railway station, at the foot of the bridge of the same name. Formally known as the church of Santa Maria di Nazareth, it takes its other name from the Carmelite religious order of which it was the seat, the Discalced, which means ‘without shoes’ or ‘scalzi’ in Italian. Designed by Baldassare Longhena, best known for the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute at the end of the Grand Canal where it meets the Lagoon, its sumptuous interior includes paintings by Tiepolo and sculptures by Giovanni Maria Morlaiter. The Venetian Late Baroque facade is the work of Giuseppe Sardi, while the statues mounted at various points on the facade were sculpted by Bernardo Falconi.

Also on this day:

1509: The Battle of Agnadello 

1916: The birth of designer Marco Zanuso

1934: The birth of footballer Aurelio Milani


21 March 2019

Pope Pius VII crowned

Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Pope Pius VII, which is kept at the Louvre in Paris
Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Pope Pius VII,
which is kept at the Louvre in Paris

Last papal conclave to take place outside Rome

Barnaba Niccolo Maria Luigi Chiaramonti was crowned Pope Pius VII on this day in 1800 in Venice.

A papier-mâché version of the papal tiara had to be used as the French Revolutionary army had taken the original with them when they took the previous pope, Pius VI, to France as a prisoner.

French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte had invaded Rome in 1796 and seized Pius VI, who was taken to Valence, where he died in 1799.

The conclave to elect his successor met on 30 November that year in the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio in Venice. This was because Pius VI had issued an ordinance in 1798 saying that the city where the largest number of cardinals were to be found at the time of his death was to be the scene of the subsequent election. When he died there were 34 cardinals in Venice and others soon joined them.

After the conclave had lasted three months and the cardinals had been unable to agree on a successor, Chiaramonti was suggested as a compromise candidate and was elected. It was the last conclave to be held outside Rome.

The arrest of Pius VII in Rome in 1809, after which he remained in exile until 1814
The arrest of Pius VII in Rome in 1809, after which
he remained in exile until 1814
He was crowned in Venice on March 21 and then left the city by sea to return to Rome.

Chiaramonti was born in 1742 in Cesena, then part of the Papal States. He became a Benedictine and later was made Cardinal and Bishop of Imola by Pius VI, who was one of his relatives.

After his election, Pius VII wanted to make peace with Napoleon and negotiated the Concordat of 1801, which established reorganisation of the dioceses and declared Roman Catholicism as France’s chief religion.

But it was not long before his relationship with Napoleon deteriorated. Rome was occupied by French troops in 1808 and Napoleon declared the Papal States annexed to France.

Pius VII excommunicated the invaders in 1809 but was then taken prisoner by them and remained in exile until 1814.

After his release, Pius VII was greatly acclaimed on his journey back to Rome. The Congress of Vienna held between 1814 and 1815 restored nearly all the Papal States, including Rome, to him.

Pius VII died in 1823 after fracturing his hip in a fall in the papal apartments. After being briefly interred in the Vatican grottoes, Pope Pius VII was buried inside a tomb in St Peter’s Basilica.

In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI granted Pius VII the title, Servant of God.

The Basilica and former monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore is one of the most famous features of the Venetian lagoon
The Basilica and former monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore
is one of the most famous features of the Venetian lagoon
Travel tip:

The San Giorgio monastery, where the election of Pius VII took place, was a Benedictine monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. It stands next to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The monastery building currently serves as the headquarters of the Cini Foundation, a cultural foundation set up in 1951 in memory of Count Giorgio Cini. The church itself was designed by Andrea Palladio, and built between 1566 and 1610 in the classical Renaissance style. Its brilliant white marble gleams above the blue water of the lagoon.

The reading room at the Biblioteca Maltestiana in Cesena, which was the first public library in Europe
The reading room at the Biblioteca Maltestiana in Cesena,
which was the first public library in Europe
Travel tip:

Cesena, the birthplace of Pope Pius VII, is a city in Emilia-Romagna, south of Ravenna and west of Rimini. One of the main sights in the town is the 15th century Biblioteca Maltestiana, which houses many valuable manuscripts and was the first public library in Europe. It is now a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. The city's castle, the Rocca Malatestiana, was used by Cesare Borgia as a jail for Caterina Sforza. It is octagonal, with two main towers.

More reading:

The papal appointment that sparked the Western Schism

The pope who excommunicated Henry VIII

How ruthless Sixtus V cleaned up Rome's criminal underworld

Also on this day:

The Feast Day of Saint Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello

1474: The birth of Saint Angela Merici

1918: The birth of Alberto Marvelli, Rimini's wartime 'Good Samaritan'

(Picture credits: San Giorgio by Nau Kofi; Cesena library by Boschetti marco 65; via Wikimedia Commons)


11 February 2019

Louis Visconti - architect

Roman who made his mark on Paris

The French painter Théophile Vauchelet's portrait of  the architect Louis Visconti.
The French painter Théophile Vauchelet's
portrait of  the architect Louis Visconti 
The architect Louis Visconti, who designed a number of public buildings and squares as well as numerous private residences in Paris, was born on this day in 1791 in Rome.

Notably, Visconti was the architect chosen to design the tomb to house the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte after King Louis Philippe I obtained permission from Britain in 1840 to return them from Saint Helena, the remote island in the South Atlantic where the former emperor had died in exile in 1921.

Born Louis Tullius Joachim Visconti, he came from a family of archaeologists. His grandfather, Giambattista Antonio Visconti was the founder of the Vatican Museums and his father, Ennio Quirino Visconti, was an archaeologist and art historian.

Ennio had been a consul of the short-lived Roman Republic, proclaimed in February 1798 after Louis Alexandre Berthier, a general of Napoleon, had invaded Rome, but was forced to leave with the restoration of papal control.

He and his family moved to Paris and were naturalised as French citizens, with Ennio becoming a curator of antiquities and paintings at the Musée du Louvre. 

Visconti's magnificent tomb for Napoleon Bonaparte, in red porphyry on a granite base, standing 16ft high
Visconti's magnificent tomb for Napoleon Bonaparte, in
red porphyry on a granite base, standing 16ft high
In 1808, Louis enrolled at Paris's École des Beaux-Arts.  He excelled in architecture and secured second prize in the architecture section of the Prix de Rome in 1814 and the architecture department prize at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1817.

He was was appointed by the city in 1826 to oversee building works in the 3rd and 8th arrondissements and subsequently as curator of the 8th section of public monuments, which comprised the Bibliothèque Royale, the monument on Place des Victoires, Porte Saint-Martin, Saint-Denis and the Colonne Vendôme.

He became divisional architect in 1848, and government architect in 1849.

In May 1848, he produced a first-draft design for completing the Palais du Louvre. He was made architect to the Palais des Tuileries in July 1852 and architect to Napoleon III the following year.

The Hôtel de Pontalba in Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, now home to the US Ambassador to France
The Hôtel de Pontalba in Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré,
now home to the US Ambassador to France
Visconti built a number of Renaissance-style public fountains in Paris, including the Fontaine Gaillon, the Fontaine Louvois, the Fontaine Molière, the Fontaine Quatre Evèques and the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice. He was an important participant in the revival of the Picturesque and Gothic styles, as is reflected in the Château de Lussy (1844), which is modelled after an English cottage.

Among several large houses he designed, the Hôtel de Pontalba in Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, built in 1839, is an outstanding example.

Hôtel de Pontalba is an example of an hôtel particulier, a type of large townhouse. It was commissioned by New Orleans-born Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba. Nowadays, it is the official residence of the United States Ambassador to France.

During his time as the official architect for the Louvre under Napoleon III, he was commissioned to design the tomb for Napoleon Bonaparte.

Louis Philippe had arranged for Napoleon’s remains to be brought to France in 1840 and they were first buried in the Chapelle Saint-Jérôme in Hôtel des Invalides, the complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris that contains museums and monuments relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building's original purpose.

The buildings include the Dôme des Invalides, the tallest church in Paris at a height of 107m (351ft), which contains the tombs of some of France's war heroes. It became Napoleon’s final resting place in Visconti’s magnificent, dramatic tomb, crafted in red porphyry on a green granite base, circled by a crown of laurels, standing 5m (16 feet) high and 4.5m wide.

The remains of the Forum of ancient Rome attract some 4.5 million visitors every year
The remains of the Forum of ancient Rome attract some
4.5 million visitors every year
Travel tip:

When the new Roman Republic was declared in 1798, its supporters symbolically gathered in the Foro Romano, the remains of the Forum of ancient Rome, a rectangular piazza (square) surrounded by important government buildings at the centre of the city. For centuries the Forum was the centre of day-to-day life in Rome, a market place but also the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, elections and triumphal processions. Statues and monuments were built to commemorate the city's great men. Located between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today attracts some 4.5 million visitors every year.

Find a hotel in Rome with

Caravaggio's The Entombment of Christ is among the Vatican's art treasures
Caravaggio's The Entombment of Christ
is among the Vatican's art treasures 
Travel tip:

The Vatican Museums, located inside the Vatican City, display works from the immense collection amassed by popes throughout the centuries including several renowned Roman sculptures and some of the most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums, founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century, contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display. The Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo, and the Stanze di Raffaello, decorated by Raphael, are on the visitor route through the Vatican Museums, which are visited by some six million people each year, making in the fifth most visited art museum in the world. The museums employ a full-time staff of 640 people.

More reading:

Why Luigi Vanvitelli was the 18th century's most celebrated architect

How architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini reshaped Catania in Sicily

The founding of the papal Swiss Guard

Also on this day:

1881: The birth of Futurist painter Carlo Carrà

1995: The birth of singer Gianluca Ginoble

(Picture credits: Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb by Son of Groucho; Hôtel de Pontalba by Mouloud47; Rome Forum by Rennett Stowe; via Wikemedia Commons)

(Paintings: Portrait of Visconti - Musée Carnavalet, Paris; Caravaggio's The Entombment of Christ - Pinacoteca Vaticano, Rome)

11 October 2017

Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte – adventurer

Colourful life of Italian-born prince

Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of the Emperor
Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of the Emperor
Prince Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte, a nephew of the Emperor Napoleon, was born on this day in 1815 in Rome.

He was to become notorious for shooting dead a journalist after his family was criticised in a newspaper article.

Bonaparte was the son of Napoleon’s brother, Lucien, and his second wife, Alexandrine de Bleschamp. He grew up with his nine siblings on the family estate at Canino, about 40 kilometres north of Rome.

The young Bonaparte helped to keep bandits at bay, spending a lot of time with the local shepherds who were armed and had dogs to protect them.

He set out on a career of adventure, joining bands of insurgents in the Romagna region as a teenager.

In 1831 he spent time in prison for a minor offence and was banished from the Papal States.

He went to the United States to join his uncle, Joseph Bonaparte, in New Jersey. He spent some time in New York before going to serve in the army of the President of Columbia. At the age of 17 he became the President’s aide and was given the rank of Commander.

Bonaparte returned to the family estate at Canino where he enjoyed hunting with his brothers. One day they caught a well-known bandit and one of his brothers wounded him.

They delivered the bandit to the police, who instead of being grateful tried to arrest them. Bonaparte lashed out with his hunting knife and killed a young officer.

The ruins of the Bonaparte mansion at Luzipeo in Corsica
The ruins of the Bonaparte mansion at Luzipeo in Corsica
He was condemned to death, but after serving nine months in prison, he was released after an intervention by the Pope, on the condition that he left Canino.

He travelled to the US, Britain and Corfu, from where he sailed to Albania with friends. He was set upon by bandits and managed to fight them off but was then asked to leave Corfu.

After the revolution of 1848 he returned to France and was elected to the National Assembly as deputy for Corsica, declaring himself a republican.

But after his cousin Louis became Napoleon III, he accepted the title of Prince, losing the support of the Republicans.

In 1853 he married Justine Eleonore Ruffin, the daughter of a Parisian workman. They had two children, Prince Roland Napoleon Bonaparte in 1858 and Princess Jeannne Bonaparte in 1861.

Napoleon III, now on the throne of France, did not approve of the marriage and so the family went to live in Calinzana in Corsica.

Bonaparte shot and killed a journalist but was acquitted of murder
Bonaparte shot and killed a journalist
but was acquitted of murder
They set up house at Grotta Niella near Calvi but then had a mansion built at Luzipeo. The ruins of it still stand on a hill overlooking the bay of Crovani. The last time it was occupied was during World War II by the Italian army.

In 1869 a dispute broke out between two Corsican newspapers, the radical La Revanche and the loyalist L’Avenir de la Corse.

After La Revanche criticised the Emperor Napoleon, L’Avenir published a letter by Prince Pierre Bonaparte calling the staff of La Revanche ‘cowards and traitors’.

Paschal Grousset, the editor of La Marsellaise, supported La Revanche and was offended by the Prince’s words.

The Prince wrote to the founder of the newspaper, Henri Rochefort, claiming he was upholding the good name of his family and giving him his address.

Grousset sent Victor Noir and Ulrich de Fonvielle as his seconds to fix the terms of a duel and present him with a letter.

The Prince said he would fight Rochefort, another nobleman, but not deal with his menials. According to Fonvielle, after Noir replied to him, the Prince slapped his face and shot him dead.

According to the Prince, Noir took umbrage at being called a menial and struck him first, whereupon he drew his revolver and shot the journalist. This version was accepted by the court.

Prince Pierre Bonaparte died in 1881 at Versailles and was interred in the Cimitière des Gonards there.

Canino sits on a hillside in the Province of Viterbo
Canino sits on a hillside in the Province of Viterbo
Travel tip:

Canino, where Prince Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte grew up, is to the north of Rome in the province of Viterbo and dates back to Etruscan times. Lucien Bonaparte, Pierre’s father, was made Prince of Canino by Pope Pius VII and there is a Palazzo Bonaparte in the town.

A square in the centre of Calinzana
A square in the centre of Calinzana
Travel tip:

Corsica was part of the Republic of Genoa for centuries, until in 1768 it was ceded to the French. This was a year before the birth of Napoleon Bonaparte in the capital city of Ajaccio. Under French rule, the Corsican language, which is closely related to standard Italian, declined. But during the first half of the 19th century the people of Corsica still identified with Italian culture. Children were sent to Pisa to study, official acts were written in Italian and books were printed in Italian. Calinzana (known as Calenzana in French), where Prince Pierre Napoleon went to live, is on the northwest coast of the island. The ruins of his mansion can still be seen on a hill overlooking the coast. It is remembered that it was thanks to his generosity that the people of Calinzana could enjoy the benefits of freely available drinking water. There is a square named after him with a bust of the prince.

1 August 2017

Francesca Scanagatta - soldier

Woman pretended to be a man to join Austrian army

Francesca Scanagatta convinced the Austrian authorities she was a man
Francesca Scanagatta convinced the
Austrian authorities she was a man
Francesca Scanagatta, an Italian woman who served in the Imperial Austrian army for seven years while pretending to be a man, was born on this day in 1776 in Milan.

Scanagatta – sometimes known as Franziska – was a small and apparently rather plain girl, who was brought up in Milan while the city was under Austrian rule. She admired the Austrian soldiers to the extent of wishing she could join the army, yet knew that as a girl she would not be allowed to.

Even so, it did not stop her dreaming and throughout her childhood and teenage years she worked on becoming physically stronger through exercise while reading as much literature as she could about the army.

By contrast, her brother Giacomo hated the idea of joining up. He was rather effeminate in nature and the very thought of becoming a soldier filled him with dread.  Yet his father wanted him to serve and arranged for him to attend a military school in Vienna.

Giacomo confided his fears in Francesca and she suddenly realised she had an opportunity to fulfil her dreams by signing up in his place.

So, in June 1794, dressed as a man, the 17-year-old travelled with Giacomo to Austria and joined the Theresianische Militärakademie – the Theresian Military Academy – in his place as an external student.

When he learned what had happened, Francesca's father made plans to go to Vienna to bring her home, but she was so passionate about fulfilling her ambition that eventually he backed down and allowed her to stay at the academy.

A battlefield scene from around the time Scanagatta  was recruited by the Austrian army fighting France
A battlefield scene from around the time Scanagatta
was recruited by the Austrian army fighting France
Maintaining the pretence of being a man, she gained excellent grades and graduated as an ensign in January 1797.

She narrowly missed being drawn into a combat role later the same year, leading a reinforcement troop from Hungary to join her battalion on the Rhine preparing to repel the advancing armies of Napoleon in the later stages of the French Revolutionary Wars.  Napoleon’s earlier victories worried the Austrian commanders, however, and a peace treaty was agreed before Francesca’s men saw any action.

In February 1799, as hostilities broke out again, she marched with her company to join the so-called War of the Second Coalition against the French, only to be denied the chance to fight again, this time after suffering a severe attack of rheumatism, which confined her to two months of recuperation before she could rejoin the battalion.

In the meantime, she was transferred to a regiment based at Pancsova in an area now part of northern Serbia, with whom she marched to Italy to reinforce the Austrian lines.  She showed herself to be tough and resilient in testing conditions.

Rumours that she was not who she said she was were sometimes openly discussed among her colleagues but when another soldier teased her for being small, scarcely disguising what he was thinking, she challenged him to a duel and won, although she contented herself with merely wounding her opponent.

A scene from the Battle of Marengo, a significant victory for the French in the War of the Second Coalition
A scene from the Battle of Marengo, a significant victory
for the French in the War of the Second Coalition
Fully recovered from her illness, in December 1799 she led an attack on the French trenches at Barbagelata, a strategic village above the Val d’Aveto in Liguria, in the province of Genoa.

This was the last straw as far as her worried family were concerned.  When she returned home to visit during the early weeks of 1800, they tried desperately to persuade her to leave the army.

Instead, promoted to lieutenant in March of that year, Francesca returned to the Siege of Genoa, at which her father took the decision, despite knowing the fury his actions would provoke, of informing the Austrian authorities that the ‘man’ they had just made a lieutenant was, in fact, his daughter.

She was obliged to resign on the very day Genoa fell, on June 4, 1800. Nonetheless, her commander, Friedrich Heinrich von Gottesheim, held a party in her honour, out of respect for her bravery and outstanding conduct.

Back in Milan, she maintained close contact with the army and began a courtship with Lieutenant Spini, of the Italian Presidential (later Royal) Guard, whom she married in January, 1804.

They had four children, two boys and two girls. When the boys were old enough, they were allowed to wear the medals their mother was not permitted to wear.

She died in 1865 aged 89. Her portrait hangs in the Theresian Academy in Wiener Neustadt, 60km (37 miles) south of Vienna.

Travel tip:

The hamlet of Barbagelata, 1,115 metres above sea level some 48km (30 miles) north-east of Genoa, is officially listed as having 35 buildings and a population of just 17 people, with only seven over the age of 15.

Three Mozart operas were staged for the first time at Milan's Teatro Regio Ducale
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Travel tip:

Milan was in the possession of Austria from 1707 to 1797, the period of the Hapsburgs, and again after the end of Napoleon’s rule from 1815 to 1859, when the Austrians were defeated at the Battle of Solferino and Milan became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia.   During the first period of Austrian rule, Milan became a centre of lyric opera. In the 1770s, Mozart unveiled three operas at the Teatro Regio Ducale - Ascanio in AlbaMitridate, re di Ponto, and Lucio Silla. Later, after Teatro Regio Ducale burned down, Teatro alla Scala became the foremost opera theatre in the world, with its premières of Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi.


17 October 2016

The end of the Venetian Republic

Peace treaty saw Venice given away to Austria

Venice in the days of Austrian rule, as depicted by the  18th century artist Canaletto
Venice in the days of Austrian rule, as depicted by the
18th century artist Canaletto
A peace settlement signed in a small town in north-east Italy on this day in 1797 heralded a dark day for Venice as the Most Serene Republic officially lost its independence after 1,100 years.

The Treaty of Campo Formio, drawn up after the Austrians had sought an armistice when faced with Napoleon Bonaparte's advance on Vienna, included an exchange of territory that saw Napoleon hand Venice to Austria.

It marked the end of the First Coalition of countries allied against the French, although it was a short-lived peace.  A Second Coalition was formed the following year.

The Venetian Republic, still a playground for the rich but in decline for several centuries in terms of real power, had proclaimed itself neutral during the Napoleonic Wars, wary that it could not afford to sustain any kind of conflict.

But Napoleon wanted to acquire the city nonetheless, seeing it as a potential bargaining chip in his empire-building plans and had his eye on its vast art treasures.  In May 1797 he provoked the Venetians into attacking a French ship and used this as an excuse to declare war.

The reaction of the Venetian Grand Council and the last of its Doges, Ludovico Manin, was to vote the Republic out of existence and surrender, which put the city under French rule.  When the city and the nearby islands had been secured, 4,000 soldiers of Napoleon's army staged a parade in Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square). It was a humiliation for Venice, the first time that foreign troops had set foot in the city.

Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of Venice, in a portrait by Barnardino Castelli
Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of Venice, in
a portrait by Barnardino Castelli
Systematically, the French began a programme of asset stripping, their plunder including the bronze Lion of Venice in St Mark's Square.

Within six months, however, the peace accord with the Austrians gave Napoleon the chance to use Venice as part of the settlement, taking Lombardy and the area of Belgium then known as the  Austrian Netherlands in return.

The city became part of Napoleon's newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1805 but the Austrians seized control again when Napoleon was defeated in 1814.

Venice's resentment of the French was matched by their dislike for the Austrians, even though the city's new rulers were instrumental in building the railway that connected them to the mainland, opening the way for a new era of prosperity.

The Venetians rose up in rebellion in 1848, staging a general strike and recruiting a militia of 4,000 men, briefly driving the Austrians out. The new Republic of San Marco declared independence in March 1848 and a year passed before the Austrians reclaimed the city, its navy sailing into the lagoon and laying siege until, starving and fighting a cholera epidemic, Venice surrendered.

The Austrians were finally driven out by Victor Emanuele II's army during the wars of Italian unification, at which point Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy via the Treaty of Vienna. 

Travel tip:

The town known as Campo Formio at the time of the Treaty subsequently changed its name to Campoformido.  Situated just to the south-west of Udine, the capital of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, the town is also historically important as the seat from the 12th century onwards of the Parliament of Friuli, one of the oldest parliaments in the world.  The Treaty was signed at the Villa Manin, the country home of Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of the Venetian Republic.

The Lion of Venice sits atop one of two columns at the end of the Piazzetta of St Mark's
The Lion of Venice sits atop one of two columns
at the end of the Piazzetta of St Mark's
Travel tip:

The Lion of Venice, which sits atop one of two granite columns, standing guard at the lagoon end of the Piazzetta adjoining St Mark's Square, was lifted down and taken to France in 1797, where it remained until being repatriated in 1815 with the fall of Napoleon.  It was badly damaged on both legs of the journey, losing its griffin-like wings, its tail, its front paws and the gospel book upon which they rested on the outward journey.  Restored and mounted in the Place des Invalides in Paris, it was dropped as workmen lifted it down for the return to Venice, where it arrived in 20 pieces.  The fragments were pieced together by the sculptor Bartolomeo Ferrari.

More reading:

Napoleon crowns himself King of Italy

Austrians driven out in Battle of Marengo

Battle of Solferino and the birth of the Red Cross


26 February 2016

Napoleon escapes from Elba

Emperor leaves idyllic island to face his Waterloo

The French painter Joseph Baume's 1836 picture of  Napoleon about to depart from Elba for mainland France
The French painter Joseph Baume's 1836 picture of
Napoleon about to depart from Elba for mainland France
French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from the Italian island of Elba, where he had been living in exile, on this day in 1815.

Less than a year before, he had arrived in Elba, an island dotted with attractive hills and scenic bays, following his unconditional abdication from the throne of France.

Several countries had formed an alliance to fight Napoleon’s army and had chosen to send him to live in exile on the small Mediterranean island about 10km (6 miles) off the Tuscan coast.

They gave Napoleon sovereignty over the island and he was allowed to keep a small personal army to guard him. He soon set about developing the iron mines and brought in modern agricultural methods to improve the quality of life of the islanders.

But he began to be worried about being banished still further from France. He had heard through his supporters that the French Government were beginning to question having to pay him an annual salary.

Villa San Martino was Napoleon's country house on Elba
Napoleon's country house on Elba, the Villa San Martino
He had also been told that many European ministers felt Elba was too close to France for comfort.

Napoleon also missed his wife, Marie-Louise, who he believed his captors were preventing from joining him, and he was worried about being moved again to somewhere even more remote.

On the evening of February 26, 1815 Napoleon and a few hundred loyal soldiers boarded small boats and sailed to a tiny fishing village near Cannes, from where they marched north to Paris.

Napoleon seized power again and governed for a period now referred to as 'The Hundred Days,' but his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo was less than four months away.

The picturesque port of Portoferraio is the arrival point for visitors to the island of Elba
The picturesque port of Portoferraio is the arrival
point for visitors to the island of Elba
Travel tip:

Elba is now a popular destination with holidaymakers who arrive by ferry at Portoferraio, which has an old port and a modern seafront with hotels. The west coast of the island has sandy beaches but the east coast is more rugged with high cliffs. Inland there are olive groves and vineyards producing Elba DOC. You can visit Napoleon’s two residences, Palazzina Naopleonica, a modest house built around two windmills in Portoferraio and Villa San Martino, his country house, which is further inland at San Martino and is decorated inside with Egyptian-style frescoes.

Hotels in Portoferraio from

Piombino is the mainland point of departure for Piombino
The port of Piombino, the nearest mainland town to Elba
Travel tip:

Piombino is the point on the mainland closest to Elba, from where ferries run back and forth at frequent intervals during the day. The town is on the end of the Masoncello peninsula between the Ligurian and Tyrennian seas. It has an historic centre dating back to when it was a port used by the Etruscans. The main Etruscan city in the area, Populonia, is now a frazione (hamlet) of Piombino. It still has some Etruscan ruins to see and the Museo Etrusco Gasparri, which has important bronze and terracotta works.