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


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.)

Did famed French marshal end his days as NC schoolmaster?

Marshal Ney at Waterloo

As improbable as it seems, in some circles there is still doubt as to whether Michel Ney, one of France’s greatest military minds, was executed for treason in 1815 or instead ended his days as a North Carolina schoolmaster three decades later.

Ney was among the ablest of Napoleon’s military leaders, commanding troops during both the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded at least four times during his career, fought in scores of battles and commanded the rearguard of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it withdrew from Russia during the ill-fated invasion of that country. Ney was said to have been the last Frenchman on Russian soil during the Patriotic War of 1812.

Napoleon himself called Ney “the bravest of the brave.”

It was Ney, however, who in April 1814 led the Marshals’ revolt and demanded Napoleon’s abdication.

Initially, Ney was lauded by the Bourbons when they reclaimed the French crown, but the newly restored monarchy was said to have reacted coolly to Ney’s non-aristocratic beginnings.

Marshal Michel Ney.

Marshal Michel Ney.

When Ney heard of Napoleon’s escape from Elba in early 1815, he organized a force to stop his former leader’s march on Paris in a bid to keep France at peace and show his loyalty to the newly restored regime. But despite Ney’s promise to King Louis XVIII, he found himself unable to resist Napoleon’s siren song and rejoined his former commander on March 18, 1815.

Three months later, Napoleon appointed Ney commander of the left wing of the Army of the North. On June 16, 1815, Napoleon’s forces split up to fight two separate battles simultaneously.

Ney attacked the Duke of Wellington at Quatre Bras while Napoleon attacked Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher’s Prussians at Ligny. The French won the initial battle, but weren’t able to deliver a knockout blow.

At Waterloo two days later Ney again commanded the left wing of the French army. At mid-afternoon, Ney ordered a mass cavalry charge against the Anglo-Allied line. Ney’s cavalry overran the enemy cannon, but found the enemy infantry arrayed in cavalry-proof square formations.

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Flemish altarpiece undergoes major restoration

Adoration of the mystic lamb ghent

An elaborate Renaissance altarpiece that has transfixed churchgoers and art lovers alike for centuries is undergoing its most ambitious restoration in its nearly 600-year history.

Flemish masterpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,” also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, is the work of masters Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. A $1.6 million, five-year project to restore it is unusual in that it taking place in full public view at the Ghent Fine Arts Museum.

The work, designed for Ghent’s Saint Bavo Cathedral, was completed in 1432. It is believed that Hubert Van Eyck designed it before his death in 1426 and Jan Van Eyck executed much of it.

Made of 12 oak panels painted on both sides, the 11-foot-by-15-foot work has attracted attention since its unveiling, though not all of it good.

During the Reformation, Protestants attacked Ghent in the 16th century and the altarpiece was hauled up to safety in the cathedral tower.

Following the French Revolution, the altarpiece was among a number of art works plundered in today’s Belgium and was later exhibited at the Louvre. Those panels seized by the French were returned to the church by the Duke of Wellington after his victory at Waterloo against Napoleon in 1815, according to Agence France-Presse.

Several of the painting’s wings were sold in 1816 to an English collector living in Berlin, Edward Solly. Among panels not sold was one with Adam and another with Eve, which were the first known nudes in Flemish art.

Solly’s panels were bought in 1821 by the King of Prussia, Frederick William III, and were displayed in a Berlin art museum.

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Notre Dame de Paris begins jubilee year

notre dame de paris

Despite not looking a day over 700, the famed French cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris Wednesday began a year of celebrations to mark the 850th anniversary of its founding.

Dignitaries, tourists and Parisians gathered in the thousands Wednesday for a ceremony and Mass to celebrate the history of the Gothic landmark, which was begun in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII. Construction did not finish until the middle of the 14th century.

To mark the jubilee year, the cathedral features new, improved lighting, a viewing platform and a renovated organ. Officials expect an additional five million individuals to visit the church in the coming year, according to Agence France-Presse.

Over the centuries Notre Dame has been witness to much history:

  • In 1185 Heraclius of Caesarea, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, sounded the call for the Third Crusade from the still-incomplete cathedral.
  • In 1431, English monarch Henry VI was crowned King of France. Not only did he not keep his hold on France for long, but he eventually lost his title to England, as well. Continue reading

Soldier’s remains found at Waterloo

The remains of a soldier who died from wounds suffered during the famed Battle of Waterloo nearly 200 years ago have been uncovered, possibly at the spot where he died.

The skeleton of the soldier, who was probably British and whose initials may have been C.B., was found last week when a mechanical digger working a few hundred yards behind what had been the British and Allied front line uncovered the remains.

The skeleton, found under 15 inches of soil, was lying on its back with a spherical musket bullet still between its ribs, according to Agence France-Presse.

The find is unusual not only because of its age, but because the British were particular about recovering their war dead and bringing them home, according to Reuters.

“One possibility was that he crept away wounded from the front and settled down to die here. Another is that he was carried here by comrades,” said Dominique Bosquet of the archaeological department of Belgium’s Walloon region.

“Again, we can only speculate about why he was apparently left behind, he added. “Perhaps comrades buried him, perhaps an explosion nearby covered him with earth.”

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The boy king who died for his father’s sins

On this date in 1795, France’s little-remembered Louis XVII is said to have died in a midievel fortress in Paris, a victim of the French Revolution that had earlier claimed his more famous parents, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Born in March 1785, the young Louis was orphaned with the execution of his mother in October 1793, at the age of 8. His father, the King of France, had been guillotined nine months earlier.

Following his father’s death, the young Louis became the uncrowned King of France and Navarre in the eyes of the royalists. However, he was imprisoned from August 1792 until his death and was never officially crowned king.

His title is one bestowed by French Legitimists and by the fact that Louis XVIII, who ruled from 1814-1826, adopted the title Louis XVIII rather than Louis XVII.

The young Louis was the second-born son of Louis XVI but became heir-apparent when his older brother died in 1789, about the time the French Revolution erupted amid rising food prices food shortages, crushing national debt and a perceived indifference among the Royal Court to the welfare of the masses.

As conditions worsened, the royal family attempted to flee the turmoil.

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Belgium to tidy up Battle of Waterloo site

It’s been nearly two centuries since Napoleon met his waterloo at the Battle of Waterloo, the famed battle fought on a plain in the rural area south of Brussels, and now Belgian officials are working to spruce up the site.

“Where cannon balls once thundered across fields, construction workers began breaking down walls in a project that will see the demolition of restaurants, stores and parking lots considered eyesores,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Bulldozers began work Wednesday to clean up the site of the battle that finished off the French dictator once and for all in 1815, and marking the end of his Hundred Days return from exile.

“The goal is to bring more beauty to what Victor Hugo once described as a ‘dreary plain,’ the place where Prussian and English troops handed Napoleon’s army a decisive defeat on June 18, 1815,” the wire service reported.

The focal point of the battlefield will remain the Lion Mound, a 130-foot-tall cone of earth and grass topped by a lion statue that was erected in honor of victorious Prince William of Orange.

“We want to bring authenticity back to Waterloo, which is one of the most well-preserved battlefields in the world,” said Paul Furlan, tourism minister in Belgium’s Wallonia region.

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