Lucien Bonaparte, a mercantile collector

Lucien Bonaparte, a mercantile collector

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Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Canino (1775-1840).

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: June 2008

Historical context

From the Renaissance onwards, artists and scholars rediscovered the civilizations of Antiquity and developed a passion for Greek architecture and sculpture. The vases from the Durand and Canino collections have been irreparably disseminated around the world: they have been bought by major European museums - Paris, London, Munich, Berlin… - but also by a new generation of wealthy collectors eager to set up a cabinet. amateur. The great Parisian antique dealers, such as Gansberg, Montfort, Rollin or Feuardent, also acquire beautiful pieces for essentially mercantile purposes.

Image Analysis

Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Canino (1775-1840), represented in the antique on a pedestal, is a copy of the original bust made by the sculptor Joseph-Charles Marin (1759-1834) around 1805. This work is part of the purest neoclassical tradition: it is one of the many testimonies of ancient aesthetics adopted by Emperor Napoleon I as the official style of the imperial regime. Neoclassical artists turned resolutely towards Greek and Roman Antiquity, both in terms of aesthetic values ​​and moral values: the ideal Beauty is that which combines the beauty of the body and that of the spirit. Neoclassicism therefore testifies to a desire for art to participate in social change, in the moralization of manners, in the advent of revolutions, in a new conception of Beauty. It is not surprising that this neo-classical tradition finds its chosen field in the art of portraiture, which combines purity of form and a concern for a rigor that can reach coldness. The thoughtful imitation of antique works thus creates a certain distance between the work and the viewer, a cold distance that is quite perceptible in this white marble bust of Lucien Bonaparte.


Second brother of Napoleon I, Lucien Bonaparte assumed important political functions under the Directory and the Consulate. He was first President of the Council of Five Hundred and then, successively, Minister of the Interior, French Ambassador to Madrid and member of the Tribunate. His role was decisive in the success of the coup d'etat of 18 Brumaire and the proclamation of Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul. Relations between Lucien Bonaparte and his illustrious brother, already greatly compromised due to political differences - convinced Republican, Lucien did not approve of Napoleon's authoritarian and monarchical drift - deteriorated considerably following his marriage to a widow, Alexandrine. by Bleschamp. He took refuge in Rome, with Pope Pius VII, whose friendship he had won in 1801 by supporting the Concordat. He settled near Viterbo, in the ancient Etruscan land of Canino, which the Pope erected for him as a principality. After the fall of the Empire in 1815, he devoted himself to archeology and the excavations he carried out in the Etruscan necropolises of Vulci, Cornetto and Canino brought to light between 15 and 20,000 vases which enabled him to resolve some difficulties. financial, in particular by organizing several big sales in 1834, 1837, 1838 and 1840. Carried out empirically, these excavations thus fed the art market and nourished the inspiration of the artists and creators of the moment. The famous English ceramist Wedgwood, the Sèvres factory drew heavily on the iconographic repertoire of Greek ceramics. After a long stay in the serene darkness of an Etruscan tomb, the ancient vase thus regained commercial status, became a commodity again, changed hands… without any archaeological consideration.

  • antiquity
  • Museum
  • sculpture

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "Lucien Bonaparte, a mercantile collector"

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