Napoleon Nude

In 1811, right before that triumphal and then funeral march across Russia, Napoleon saw himself carved in marble by Canova. “Why couldn’t you carve me wearing clothes?” The colossal nude statue annoyed him: to any competent middle-aged administrator to be portrayed as a youthful athlete would seem absurd. Neoclassicism certainly is an awkward movement, especially in sculpture. Denon, the first curator of Louvre, wanted the three-meter colossus at the entrance into the museum. Napoleon did not, “When you carved me on a horse I wasn’t naked!” Ridiculous — there he still stands just like that — enormous, naked, unloved — not a hero, but a prisoner of war, not in the middle of a gallery, but as a trophy at his enemy’s house, at Duke Wellington’s residence in London, by some stairway to somewhere.

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