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INTERVIEW

Emilie Robbe, 'Napoléon et l'Europe' Exhibition at the Musée de l'Armée

Museum curators : Emilie Robbe, 'Napoléon et l'Europe' Exhibition at the Musée de l'Armée

 Bibliographical details

On 27 March 2013, the Musée de l'Armée in Paris will play host to one of the most important exhibitions about Napoleon. Entitled Napoléon et l'Europe, it will bring together numerous artefacts, works of art and documentation to illustrate Napoleon's singular destiny, his military campaigns and the cultural and political changes that they brought about. Emilie Robbe, director of the exhibition, spoke to us about it.

Irène Delage: an exhibition dedicated to Napoleon and Europe is opening at the Musée de l'Armée on 27 March. Napoleonic Europe, Europe against Napoleon... what are the aims of this exhibition?




E.R: Between 1793 and 1815, events in Europe were turbulent. Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul and subsequently Emperor of the French, played a determining role with his military victories, but also, to an arguable greater degree, with his politics.
In bringing together objects and contemporary testimonies, the exhibition aims to present a synthesis of the upheavals in Europe and the political decisions they led to. It also aims to answer some of the questions which arise, questions which we are still asking ourselves about Europe today.
On the one hand, there is the question of the European-wide project that Napoleon attributed to himself in the Mémorial de Sainte Hélène. We ask how he changed Europe, whether he really planned it, and by which means he administered and controlled territories and populations. On the other hand, we examine the reactions which followed his decisions. How was Napoleon's ambivalent dynamism perceived in Europe? What was his attitude in regards to the growing feelings of nationalism in Italy, Germany, Poland and Spain? Great, medium and even small powers - how did they envisage integrating, keeping distance from or even resisting his projects? What were the reactions of monarchs, the elites and the people to Napoleon and his far-reaching politics?


I.D: To what degree does this exhibition differ from the first one, presented in Bonn at the beginning of 2011?

Uniform of Horatio Nelson, worn at Trafalgar. <i>© National Maritime Museum, London </i>

Uniform of Horatio Nelson, worn at Trafalgar. © National Maritime Museum, London

E.R: The exhibition at the Musée de l'Armée is both similar and different to the one which took place in Bonn, Napoleon und Europa: Traum und Trauma (Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 17/12/2010 - 25/04/2011). More than just a continuation, it is a reimagined version that we're offering visitors.
Visitors will find everything that contributed to the originality of the initial exhibition, opened up to many fields of historical research: transnational; political; military; cultural. The way in which that history was presented maintains a strong link with the current exhibition, because the process mirrors closely the way in which the Musée de l'Armée envisages its own projects.
With this exhibtion, our aim is to concentrate more on the upheavals in Europe between 1793 and 1815. By bringing together objects from all over Europe, from London to Moscow and Madrid to Berlin, along with some of the most famous works from French museums, we hope the exhibition will recreate the same ‘culture shock' that marked the Bonn exhibition.

I.D: Video, audio and multimedia : these are areas that the Musée de l'Armée prides itself on. How do they contribute to the overall experience of this exhibition?

Bonaparte Crossing the Great St Bernard Pass <i>© Châteaux de Versailles et du Trianon </i>

Bonaparte Crossing the Great St Bernard Pass © Châteaux de Versailles et du Trianon

E.R: We wanted to transmit knowledge in a clear and effective way, and this led us to focus particularly on multimedia. In the permanent exhibition rooms on the modern era, (1643-1870) there's a special route outlining the main themes broached in Napoleon and Europe the exhibition. The main visit of the exhibition will be punctuated by by audiovisual stations, sound posts and animated projections which allow visitors a more in-depth understanding of the objects presented and which add an extra dimension to their experience. For example, certain manuscripts like the Mémoires of lieutenant Chevalier will be accompanied by readings of extracts of the text, which cannot be displayed in its entirety behind glass. Other objects will be explained and complemented by animated displays, like the sketches made by Napoleon in recounting the battle of Austerlitz, which were in the keeping of the Crown Prince of Bavaria.

I.D: Amongst the 250 objects on display in Paris, which ones do you think are the most important, or those that you are particularly touched by?

The Coronation <i> © Fondation Napoléon / P Maurin-Berthier

The Coronation © Fondation Napoléon / P Maurin-Berthier

E.R: The exhibition is built around converging standpoints, occasionally with surprising switches of perspective. Visitors take part part in a history which, far from being fixed, is still being written.
Visitors will find the major works, such as the famous of the Bonaparte Crossing the Great St Bernard Pass by David. Put into the context of the beginning of his command, the work takes on a European dimension which is rather unexpected. Alongside these prestigious works, the exhibition also displays smaller and more unusual pieces, such as a fan which depicts a harebrained plan to invade Great Britain in 1798 (private collection).
Our aim is to display items which play off each other, reflecting the complex legacy surrounding the figure of Napoleon in Europe, that of an evocative dialogue between, on one hand, a sketch by David of the famous Consecration or Coronation (now in the Louvre) and on the other, a caricature by the Londoner Cruikshank, which completely derides the ceremony.

I.D: What would you like visitors to get from their visit?

E.R: Working on this project has meant putting into question a number of received notions about Napoleon and his impact in Europe. Our wish is that people can discover the richness and complexity of Napoleon.
For this reason we've paid special attention to providing our visitors with the means to understand the context in which Napoleon's actions took place. Who influenced him? Who were his contemporaries? How did he become what history remembers him as, a “great man”? Who were his enemies? Why did he fail? Each nation, each European country has treated Napoleon's legacy differently, and the figure of Napoleon today still belongs to all Europeans.

 
Irène Delage (tr. A.M)


 
     
 
 

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