Click, click (#33): The Barberini Faun, Glyptothek, Munich

The Glyptothek in Munich was opened in 1830. The musuem contains a number of masterpieces collected by Ludwig I. Chief among them is the Medusa Rondanini and the Barberini Faun (seen above). In fact, the exhibition is to a large extent unchanged since visited by the likes of Goethe, Thorvaldsen, and Mann.

Yet, something has changed after all. The austere white interior of the Glyptothek used to be decorated with elaborate frescoes. As seen here. I can only imagine what a marvellous sight that must have been. Unfortunately, the fragile decor didn’t survive the war.

I visited the Glyptothek on my 30th birthday. I thought seeing someone even older might help. Why, they weren’t bothered at all.


May 12th 1797 Napoleon conquered the Republic of the Venice, a state whose island existence and naval dominance had helped them remain independent for over 900 years. With the defeat of the First Coalition, Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, and Venice was given to Austria [not, as I first proposed, the other way around …] as compensation for the loss of territories closer to France. With the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805, Venice was included in the new (French controlled) Italian Republic.

The Italian Campaign was notorious for its pillaging, and Venice was no exception. Some Italian friends mentioned the theft of the Venetian horses the other day, and as it seemed to ring a bell I had to check out the details. The ”horses” are the horses of the Triumphal Quadriga which nowadays resides in the museum of the Saint Mark Basilica in Venice. A quadriga is an ancient chariot pulled by four horses. The Saint Mark Quadriga is apparently the only surviving ancient quadriga, although it is not known whether it is Roman or Greek.

What is known is that the Quadriga was originally plundered from Constantinople’s Hippodrome by Venetian crusaders in the 1204 Siege of Constantinople. They were installed on the top of the Basilica by Doge Dandolo, and remained there until Napoleon’s arrival. The insulant general of the Italian army ordered the Quadriga dismantled and had it brought to Paris. Here it served as a model for the for the quadriga on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

In 1815 the French returned the Quadriga, and it took up its former vantage point on the Basilica. The travel-weary horses didn’t have to move again until the first world war when they were sent to safety in Rome. The picture above is of the bronze horses leaving for the mainland during the second world war (1942).

Click, click (#20): Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Städel Museum in Frankfurt just closed the exhibition Beckmann & Amerika. Truth be told, I wasn’t blown away by the exhibition, but as luck would have it they had also just reopened parts of the permanent collection. Especially the Kunst der Moderne collection is great. Among the highlights is The Wave by Gustave Courbet (as seen above). An anecdote: When reading about the Place Vendôme and its famous Napoleonic column, it came to my attention that Courbet was mixed up with the statue’s turbulent history.

The impressive bronze column is modeled after Trajan’s column in Rome. It was erected by Napoleon as a victory monument for the battle of Austerlitz. The column displays 425 upwards spiraling reliefs in bronze. In fact, the bronze itself is from cannons captured at the battle of Austerlitz. A statue of Napoleon (by Antoine-Denis Chaudet) was originally placed at the top of the column. It showed the Emperor crowned with laurels in Roman fashion, holding a sword in his right hand and a globe with a statue of Victory in the other. After Napoleon’s St Helena exile, the statue was melted down to make the statue of Henry IV, which can be seen on Pont Neuf.

Both Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III subsequently provided the column with new statues of Napoleon. With the end of Napoleon III’s regime, however, the Bonaparte dynasty’s detractors again wanted the statue removed. Courbet, who had angered Napoleon III by declining the Legion of Honour, was in charge of Paris museums during the 1871 Paris Commune. He proposed that the column be taken down and reassembled in the Hotel des Invalides. The column was eventually dismantled, with the bronze plates kept intact. When the the Commune ended Courbet suffered for his role in the Column’s removal. He was forced to cover the cost for its restoration, an amount estimated at 323,000 francs.

The bankrupt painter died in exile in Switzerland – without having paid the first installment, of course.