Click, click (#35): Canova’s Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, Apsley House, London

I had to do some rather inelegant sneaking around to take illicit photos of the Canova statue in Number One, London, or Apsley House. Perhaps precisely because of my efforts to dodge security, my photos came out terribly. So the one above I’ve stolen online.

Actually there isn’t much security at Apsley House. Or much of anyone. I was practically alone in the building for a good hour, except for an old couple whose taste was Portugese silverware, not Napoleon artefacts. The upstairs has a number of well known Napoleonic themed paintings, including some of his brothers and Josephine. But it is really the downstairs exhibition that has the most interesting items. Among the many gifts the Duke received from monarchs across Europe is a collection of marshal batons.

The Duke was a Field Marshal of the Austrian Army, the Hanoverian Army, the Army of Netherlands, the Prussian Army, the Russian Army, Marshal-General of the Portugese Army, and Captain-General of the Spanish Army. Oh yes, and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Forces.

All these trinkets come to feel pretty insignificant, however, if you have time to study the exhibition room ceiling. Hidden above in the dark are countless standards captured during Wellington’s campaigns. The Aigle de drapeau is everywhere staring back at you. French soldiers swore to defend the Imperial Eagle with their lives, and battle accounts are littered with anecdotes about those who died attempting to avoid the disgrace of returning without their regimental standard.

I don’t know if Wellington also had a rank in Louis XVIII’s army. What he did have, at least, was another token of their appreciation—the enormous marble statue by Italian scultpurer Canova. After Waterloo, the French convinced the British government to buy the statue as a gift to Wellington. It was then brought to Apsley House where the floor had to be reinforced to carry the weight. It seems that Napoleon never took to Canova’s design, finding it too athletic for the dignity of an aging emperor.

Of course, it might just be that Canova’s controversial nude of his sister, Pauline Bonaparte, as Venus clouded his artistic judgement.

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