Napoleon's will to succeed even in exile and defeat has been revealed with the first full restoration of his two villas on the island of Elba.The French despot was banished to the island, 12 miles off the Italian coast, in 1814 after abdicating following his defeat by Britain and her continental allies.
Lord Liverpool, the prime minister, said Napoleon's exile had hit the Corsican "as hard as one can, and in the most vulnerable place". He tried committing suicide but failed, while one witness described him as a "wild animal in a cell" in his first months on Elba.
However, his delusions of glory and grandeur were swiftly recreated. During his nine-month stay he declared himself emperor of the island and set about building roads, passing laws and redesigning his residences.
Now, a £1 million restoration project on his two villas has stripped back layers of paint to reveal astonishing frescoes hailing Napoleon's victories at the head of the French armies.
Although his private home was a humble two-storey affair, he hired the court painter at Turin, Vincenzo Antonio Revelli, for a lavish decoration of the interior. In one room, Napoleon could remember his victories in Egypt 13 years earlier amid paintings of sphinxes and hieroglyphics.
In his bedroom, he could stare at a ceiling entirely covered in his personal symbol of the bee, alternating with the cross of the legion d'honneur. A list of furniture found in archives showed that the room was bare, except for a bed and an enormous free-standing mirror.
Although Napoleon at that stage was too poor to afford drapes and tapestries, Revelli simply painted the walls to look as if they were covered in expensive material.
Ever the soldier, Napoleon brought with him a canvas camp bed, which he set up in the garden to sleep on, and plotted over maps at his desk. It is said he forced his young son, Napoleon II, to sleep on the camp bed to instil soldierly grit at an early age.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
An Emperor in Exile...
From the Telegraph: