Napoleon Bonaparte was the self-acclaimed Emperor of France during the second phrase of the French revolution from 1797 until his downfall in 1815.
He was from the island of Corsica in the mediterranean sea which belonged to France but historically had strong ties with Italy.
The Louvre Art Gallery had been established a few years earlier in 1793 in the former Kings palace on the banks of the river seine in Paris.
It was Napoleons vision for France that the Louve be the heart of a great European empire much in the way that Rome was centuries before and art would play a pivotal part in achieving that goal.
That vision extended beyond paintings to buildings and monuments with the construction of La Madeleine church and the Arc de Triomphe.
Napoleons reign as emperor in 1797 was heralded with the public execution of public enemy number one during the first phrase of the French revolution, Monseiur Robespierree, and a two day parade of all the art pieces looted during the European campaigns to date.
Napoleon continued his extensive art looting between the period 1796 and 1812 in what has often been described as the great ‘sack of Italy’ but it also happened in other countries he conquered such as Austria and Russia.
Napoleon seized all types of valuable including paintings, busts, vases and statues.
Art was seen as trophies of war and tributes for his victories while raising funds to support his military campaigns.
Some of the most famous seizures included the Apollo Belvedere, the four bronze horses, Raphael’s Transfiguration and numerous ancient statues from Naples and Pompeii.
He used art to popularise his military successes and to shape public perception of his achievements.
Painters such as David, Gros and Ingres were commissioned to paint pictures of his successes on the battlefield as well as his actual coronation as emperor.
A famous Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova, once made a striking comment to Napoleon, intending to insult his name and strike a psychological victory for Italy over France.
‘Was it true that all French were thieves? Surely not all of them, only ‘Buona Parte’.
‘Buona Parte’ is taken to mean ‘many of them’ and is of course a pun on the last name of Napoleon.
The implication was that Napoleon was the biggest art thief of all time.
After his loss at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, as many as five thousand pieces of art were returned to their rightful owners.