Napoleon’s famed steed Vizir to be restored at Paris museum

vizir

Some 190 years ago, Vizir, among the most beloved of the scores of horses Napoleon rode into combat, died, having outlived his master and likely all 130 of the other horses the French emperor used during his 14-year reign.

Today, the remains of Vizir, who accompanied the famed warrior at the Battle of Jena in October 1806, in many other battles in the Prussian and Polish campaigns, into exile on the island of Elba in 1814 and then back to France again during The Hundred Days, stands in a glass cabinet in the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, not far from the final repose of Napoleon himself.

Time has left Vizir, a gray-white Arabian stallion, in rough shape, and in May the museum launched a funding effort to enable it to restore the remains of the steed.

More than $23,130 was raised and a pair of taxidermists who are specialists in the restoration of organic material are at work on Vizir’s degraded hide, according to The History Blog.

“They have X-rayed him and are working on a thorough cleaning, rehydrating the hide, filling in several large cracks and restoring the color which has turned a sallow yellowish color over the years, a far cry from the white-gray he was famous for,’’ according to the blog. “The project is expected to take about four weeks. Once the restoration is complete, Vizir will be displayed in a new climate-controlled case which will prevent further degradation.”

The project, which will take about a month, involves repairing tears and cracks, notably a gaping fissure running down one shoulder. The taxidermists will also rehydrate the mounted beast and give it a good dusting, according to Agence-France Presse.

Vizir was born in 1793 in the Ottoman Empire and presented by Sultan Selim III to Napoleon, then-First Consul of France, in 1802, a diplomatic gift marking the peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and France after three years of war.

Napoleon’s horses were trained to withstand battle, an important consideration given that as many as 20 were shot from under him during his many years of waging war.

Vizir, branded with an N topped with a crown, was fortunate in that he was not enlisted for duty during Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign or the subsequent ones in Germany and France because as a 20-year-old he was considered too old for battle. He was at Waterloo in 1815, but kept behind the lines.

After Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo and subsequent exile to St. Helena, Vizir was retired and was taken in by Philippe de Chaulaire, a squire of the imperial stables. The horse died on July 30, 1826, at age 33.

Chaulaire had him taxidermied but fearing the anti-Napoleonic political climate of the Bourbon Restoration sold Vizir to William Clark, an Englishman living in northern France.

Clark felt the same political pressure after Louis-Napoleon’s failed coup in 1836 and three years later passed Vizir along to another Englishman, John Greaves. Greaves smuggled the stuffed horse out of France into England by dumping the framing, unstitching his skin and stashing it in his suitcase.

Safe in England, Vizir was remounted and put on display at Manchester’s Natural History Museum in 1843.

Vizir returned to France in 1868 when the museum, forced to close its doors due to financial problems, gifted him to Louis-Napoleon, now Emperor Napoleon III, during a visit to England.

Not knowing what else to do with a large stuffed horse, Napoleon III stored it in the Louvre where it remained out of sight for 30 years until it was rediscovered in 1904 and transferred to the newly founded Musée de l’Armée in 1905.

Today, Vizir is one of thousands of attractions in the museum, alongside the likes of the 16th century sword of King Francis I and a World War I Renault FT17, one of France’s first tanks.

The equine is showcased just a short distance from his master, who rests under the Dome of Les Invalides.

(Top: Professionals work on restoring the remains of Vizir, one of Napoleon’s best-known battle horses.)

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New Caravaggio said to have been uncovered in France

Judith Beheading Holofernes

While its authenticity has yet to be fully determined, a painting discovered in a French attic is being attributed by some to the Italian master Caravaggio.

At least one expert said the 400-plus-year-old work, called “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” could be worth as much as $135 million.

However, experts aren’t in agreement as yet regarding the work’s authenticity, with some attributing the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer. Finson possessed a number of works from the Italian master and made copies of his pictures, according to the Associated Press.

The painting was discovered two years ago in Toulouse, in southern France, when the owners of the house went into the attic to repair a leak.

The picture was kept out of the public eye while it was cleaned and submitted to a deep examination that included infra-red reflectography and X-rays, the wire service added.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Eric Turquin, the French expert who retrieved the painting two years ago, said it is in an exceptional state of conservation.

The work depicts the biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general and is thought to have been painted in Rome around 1600.

The work is believed to have gone missing about 100 years after it was painted. Another version of it, which was also thought to be lost before its rediscovery in 1950, hangs in Rome’s National Gallery of Ancient Art, according to the BBC.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was among the most innovative of the Renaissance painters, and his works are often spectacular for their realism and dramatic lighting. Only about 80 of Caravaggio’s paintings survive.

Turquin told a news conference Tuesday that there “will never be a consensus” about the artist.

Turquin believes the work “must be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the last 20 years by one of the great masters.”

The picture has been awarded “National Treasure” status by French authorities, meaning that it can’t be exported for 30 months, leaving the national museums enough time for its acquisition.

While the work has yet to be authenticated, France’s Culture Ministry justified its decision to ban the export of the painting because it “deserves to be kept on (French) territory as a very important landmark of Caravaggism.”

Bruno Arciprete, the Naples-based expert who restored Caravaggio’s “Flagellation of the Christ” and “Seven Works of Mercy,” said the painting could well be a Caravaggio but that further studies are needed.

“It has interesting characteristics that can be attributed to Caravaggio,” he told the Associated Press.

Arciprete said he saw the work a few months ago in Paris and came away with a “very good impression.”

“What is required is more scientific research, and then studies by art historians,” to specifically look at the technique, pigments, the type of canvas and its preparation to see if they correspond to those used by Caravaggio, he said.

On the other hand, Richard E. Spear, a scholar of Italian Baroque art who is an expert on Caravaggio, said he was “highly dubious” that the Italian master actually painted the art work.

Spear, who has only seen photos of the painting, told the AP that he wasn’t convinced by the handling of the brushwork and that some anatomical details of the characters raised questions.

“Altogether, the picture looks rather coarse and heavy to me,” he said.

(Top: “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” a different version of the work discovered in the attic of a house in southern France recently and purported to be the work of Renaissance master Caravaggio. The above is part of the collection of the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome.)

 

Local leader fights for right for employees to remain ignorant

Henry Reilly

One sometimes wonders if parochial politicians realize how narrow they appear when they express close-minded views, or if it’s actually their goal to put forth that perception in the first place.

Henry Reilly, a councillor representing the Mourne area  in County Down on a local council in Northern Ireland, recently wrote a letter to a local publication complaining that area workers employed by the same council were being queried about their Irish language skills.

“Workers are being asked if they have an Irish language qualification, how competent they are in Irish, if they would be willing to deal with enquiries from the public in Irish and if they would be willing to take a course in Irish. Staff are even asked if they would like to take such a course during working hours!” Reilly wrote to the News Letter.

Reilly added that council staff members who had contacted him expressed concern that their lack of knowledge of Irish or interest in learning Irish could harm their promotion prospects.

“It is clear to me that the implication of the audit is that having Irish will be a distinct advantage when working for the council,” he added. “This is wrong and discriminatory against the Protestant community.”

So here we have a government entity which, as part of its responsibility to serve its citizenry, seeks to assess the Irish-speaking capabilities of its employees. Understanding that not all employees may be able to speak Irish, it asks if they would be interested in taking a course in the language during working hours.

The council is willing to pay to enable employees to learn another language, to help them better serve the populace. But an elected official finds fault with that. Not because of the potential cost, or because it would potentially leave the council staff shorthanded during working hours, but because it somehow discriminates against the Protestant community.

As I noted when I first learned of this on the blog An Sionnach Fionn, I wish someone would pay me to learn a second language.

The only thing that’s seems unfair is that the people of Mourne find themselves represented by an ignorant ass who is either kowtowing to a handful of bigots who don’t want to learn Irish because they see it as the language of Catholics, or is grandstanding in a bid to lock up votes for the next election.

I don’t know what the threshold should be for having civil staff learn different languages to serve a polyglot population, but clearly there are many regions that would benefit from having some understanding of the language(s) of those they serve, whether it’s Irish in Northern Ireland, Spanish in parts of the United States, French in parts of Canada, etc., etc.

Public service isn’t about bending the job to the employee’s whims, but adapting to what the populace needs, when possible.

If Reilly has his way, services that could be better provided by a staff at least somewhat conversant in Irish would either go undelivered, or be delivered in a decidedly less efficient manner. Either way, some of Reilly’s constitutents would lose – but he’d rather pander than serve all of the public.

(Top: Henry Reilly, councillor on the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council representing the Mourne area.)

Perception or not, corruption isn’t limited to Third World

corruption index

Transparency International, a German-based organization, recently released its world Corruption Perceptions Index for 2015.

Not surprisingly, North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan ranked near the bottom of the index, which measures widespread corruption in the public sphere, and also factors in instances of abuses of power, secret dealings, bribery, child labor, human trafficking, environmental destruction and terrorism, among other things.

Transparency International found that corruption was rife in 68 percent of the world’s countries: It would be interesting to see a similar index for US states.

If the actual machinations that go on with misuse of tax dollars, corporate incentives and lawmaker ethics, among many other things, weren’t both so well cloaked by those in power and so often overlooked by US citizens, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a number of states ranked somewhere around the nations of Eastern Europe in terms of corruption.

The difference between the US and other parts of the world isn’t a lack of corruption, it’s that our elected officials are better at hiding it, aren’t quite so ostentatious in showing off their ill-gotten booty and generally don’t kill those who threaten to expose them.

I’d imagine the same is the case in other so-called “first-world” nations such as Canada, the UK and France. Even highly ranked countries such as Denmark (No. 1), Finland (No. 2) and Sweden (No. 3), have problems.

They just have fewer issues than lower-ranked countries and their corruption occurs in a more “white collar” manner – say spanking new roads and public buildings in friends’ areas in exchange for laundered kickbacks along with incredibly generous government pensions, as opposed to naked looting of the government coffers and outright execution of opponents.

Like most things in life, it’s all in how you play the game.

(Top: Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. The darker the country the more corrupt the public sector; the lighter the less corrupt. Greenland, Antarctica and Western Sahara seem pretty safe.)

Just like old times: Citroën to roll out another French eyesore

e-mehari

The French, for all they have contributed to Western civilization, remain an enigma for a variety of reasons, not limited to their public toilets, their habit of greeting each other with kisses on both cheeks and their penchant for driving like maniacs.

Among things that have set the French apart from the rest of Western Europe is their approach to building cars. As my dad has said more than once, the French design cars as though they’d never seen one before.

He was speaking specifically of Citroën, which has been manufacturing vehicles for nearly a century.

While living in California in the early 1980s, I spied the occasional late ‘60s and early ‘70s Citroën DS about, which, in an area that not only had its share of modern sports cars but also a sizeable number of classic American cars, stood out like a great Gallic mutation. (One supposes they were driven by aging hippies who had tired of their Volkswagen vans and wanted to move on something more pretentious.)

In the intervening years it appears the company began to pay attention to other more stylish automakers and actually managed to churn out a variety of decent-looking cars.

However, in a nod to its perplexing past, Citroën will soon release the E-Mehari, an open-top electric runabout that reinforces the company’s willingness to throw caution, and taste, to the winds.

While the BBC’s car reviewer gushes over the new model, the E-Mehari is balky, ugly and looks to be something more akin to what a group of children, given access to plastic molding equipment, would fashion given the opportunity.

It has a top speed of 68 miles per hour and a cruising range of 125 miles.

It’s obvious that the PR folks at Citroën had their work cut out for them in trying to make chicken salad out this mess of chicken feathers.

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Romania: Trying to recover from bad luck, bad choices

antonescu and hitler

The 20th century was, to be blunt, pretty crappy for citizens of many countries. Those of the Soviet Union, who were forced to endure two world wars, civil war, the onset of communism and Stalin’s murderous regime, had it particularly bad, for example.

Other nations that had a rather rough go of it during the 20th century include:

  • Poland (the loss of 450,000 men in World War I even though it was not independent at that point, a war with the Soviets from 1918-1921, invaded and decimated by Nazi Germany with a huge loss of life – estimated at more than 6 million, including 3 million Jews – then placed under Soviet hegemony for 45 years);
  • Korea (annexed and brutally subjugated by Japan from 1910 to 1945, divided and then involved in a ruthless civil war from 1950-53, and both North Korea and South Korea still at daggers with one another); and
  • The former Yugoslav republics (cobbled together in part through Woodrow Wilson’s machinations after World War I, invaded by the Nazis – who set up a brutal puppet state – commandeered by Tito after the war, and finally rent asunder by brutal internecine conflict in the 1990s).

Another country that would probably like a do-over for the 20th century is Romania, which didn’t acquit itself very well in either world war and suffered under the whip of two particularly odious dictators during the Cold War.

Romania chose to remain neutral for the first two years of World War I before joining with the Entente Powers in the summer of 1916. Unfortunately,  Romania then quickly found itself overwhelmed by the Central Powers, which occupied two-thirds of the country.

When Russia capitulated to Germany following the Russian Revolution, Romania found itself surrounded and was forced to sign a harsh peace treaty. Although it was ultimately able to acquire territory under the Treaties of Saint Germain, Trianon and Paris, total Romanian military and civilian losses between 1916 and 1918 were estimated at nearly 750,000.

Things turned out even worse in the Second World War for Romania. Originally loosely affiliated with Great Britain and France, Romania opted to align itself with Nazi Germany after the start of World War II when the Nazis made quick work of most of Western Europe.

Seventy-five years ago this week, the Romanian government, under the control of fascist Ion Antonescu, officially threw its lot in with the Axis Powers, signing the Tripartite Pact.

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Agincourt’s intangible impact continues to make itself felt

battle of agincourt

Sunday marked the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt in which a badly outnumbered English army overcame and routed French forces, ensuring their place in history, thanks in no small part to later generations of (English-speaking) writers and actors.

Shakespeare’s Henry V, with the namesake’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, which includes the famous line “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” alone guaranteed collective immortality for those English and Welsh who, outnumbered by an estimated six-to-one, cut down the flower of French nobility in one of the great battles of the Hundred Years’ War.

But, as famed author Bernard Cornwell, who has himself written a thing or two about late medieval warfare, opined in The Telegraph, there was little glorious about what happened on the battlefield in northwestern France on Oct. 25, 1415:

Legend says Agincourt was won by arrows. It was not. It was won by men using lead-weighted hammers, poleaxes, mauls and falcon-beaks, the ghastly paraphernalia of medieval hand-to-hand fighting. It was fought on a field knee-deep in mud, and it was more of a massacre than a battle. Olivier’s famous film shows French knights charging on horseback, but very few men were mounted.

The French came on foot, and the battle was reduced to men battering other armoured men with hammers, maces and axes. A sword would not penetrate armour and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, but a poleaxe would fell him fast and then it was a simple enough job to raise the victim’s visor and slide a knife through an eye.

That was how hundreds of men died; their last sight on earth a dagger’s point. It is not a tale of chivalry, but rather of armoured men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls. At the battle’s height, when Henry V expected an attack on his rear that never materialised, he ordered the newly captured prisoners killed. They were murdered. Agincourt was filthy, horrible and merciless, and it is still celebrated as a golden moment in England’s history.

For all its fame, Agincourt’s effect was short-lived. Seven years after the battle, Henry V was dead. Seven years after his death, the French, inspired in part by Joan of Arc, broke the siege of Orleans, which began to turn the tide against the English.

The final battle of the war, a French victory, took place in 1453, and left the English with little in the way of Continental possessions beyond the port city of Calais.

When it was all said and done, France was in the process of being transformed from a feudal monarchy to a centralized state, while England found its coffers depleted, the war having forced the crown to tax its citizens obscenely to fund the conflict, begun in the 1330s, and thousands of Englishmen were dead.

Yet, Agincourt has remained a rallying cry for English leaders, soldiers and citizens for six centuries and will likely remain so for at least as long, if not much longer.

Such are the whims of history.

(HT: To the Sound of the Guns.)