Presence of the horses of Venice in Paris, from 1798 to 1815

Presence of the horses of Venice in Paris, from 1798 to 1815

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  • The horses of St. Mark

  • Removal of horses from St. Mark's Basilica in Venice

    DUPLESSI-BERTAUX Jean (1747 - 1819)

  • Program of the Freedom Festival and Triumphal Entry of Scientific and Art Objects

  • A review day under the Empire (1810)

    BELLANGE Joseph-Louis-Hippolyte (1800 - 1866)

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Title: The horses of St. Mark

Author :

Date shown: 1789

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Photo of the horses of Venice today

Storage place: San Marco Museum.

Contact copyright: © San Marco Museum

The horses of St. Mark

© San Marco Museum

Removal of horses from St. Mark's Basilica in Venice

© Photo National Library of France

To close

Title: Program of the Freedom Festival and Triumphal Entry of Scientific and Art Objects

Author :

Creation date : 1798

Date shown: July 27, 1798

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: collected in Italy;
9-10 Thermidor Year VI (27-28 July 1798), arrested on 4 Thermidor (22 July) by François de Neufchâteau, Minister of the Interior. p.6-7

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: PC45010263

Program of the Festival of Liberty and the Triumphal Entry of Scientific and Art Objects

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

A review day under the Empire (1810)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux

Publication date: May 2003


Presence of the horses of Venice in Paris, from 1798 to 1815


Historical context

The ancient, a model of genius

"Ancient figures should serve as a rule and a model", stated the Portable dictionary by Pernety (1757). Witnesses of the excellence of the art of metal in Antiquity, the gilded copper horses of Venice embody this notion of the antique which takes in the XVIIIe century the dimension of beautiful ideal, perfect art.

Transported to Venice in 1204, following the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders, these horses had until then composed a magnificent quadriga which adorned the Byzantine hippodrome. Dating from an even more distant past, their aesthetic perfection leads to attributing them, in the XVIIIe century, a Greek origin, because Roman art was then considered "decadent". It is more likely today that they are not before IIe century.

Bonaparte who seized Venice following the first Italian campaign ceded most of the possessions of the old Republic to Austria, by the Treaty of Campoformio (October 17, 1797). Before evacuating Venice, the French proceed to the removal of the horses of Saint-Marc to have them transported to Paris. With around twenty paintings by masters and 241 Greek and Latin manuscripts already seized in October, they must appear there as "monuments of science and the arts".

Image Analysis

"They are finally on a free land": the Great Nation

The heavy horses (900 kg each), 2.33 m high and 2.53 m long, descended from the portico of the basilica in the presence of the crowd of Venetians and the army of Italy. But the drawing by A. C. Vernet engraved by J. Duplessi-Bertaux does not show the strong reactions of opposition that the kidnapping of December 13, 1797 aroused among the Venetians.

At the time, heavy loads were transported by water. Under the responsibility of the Navy, the horses are sent by sea to Ancona. They set off again on a frigate on March 5, 1798 and arrived in Toulon on April 6. A report then written on the condition of the "Corinthian" horses - they were believed to originate from Corinth - reveals them in good condition, despite some repairs to be made to the legs [1]. Loaded onto two boats in Arles, the horses go back to Paris via the Rhône, the Saône, the Canal du Center, the Loire, the canals of Briare and Loing, then the Seine, to join the other works sent from Italy. The convoy having reached Paris only on July 17, that is to say after the festivities of July 14, the reception of the objects of art and sciences of Italy makes the main part of the program of the Festival of Liberty [2] of the year VI, 9 and 10 Thermidor. The curators for Sciences and Arts of Venice ensured the delivery as quickly as possible for the time: three months from Arles to Paris.

Of all the great feasts of the Revolution, the "Triumphal entry of objects of science and art collected in Italy", which includes musical works, is undoubtedly the most original: the honors of the triumph are granted not to a man, but to the productions of the human mind and to natural history. The program of the festival at Champ-de-Mars places horses at the top of the "Monuments of ancient sculpture". Wilhelm von Humboldt's very colorful relationship traces the impression on the viewer of the time [3].

Inscriptions precede them in the procession: "Greece ceded them, Rome lost them / Their fate changed twice, it will not change" and "They are finally on a free land". This last slogan, general in the spirit of the time, also had a meaning in the theory of the defender of neoclassicism, JJ Winckelmann: the work of art, free creation, can only flourish in earth. of freedom.

For seventeen years the horses remained in Paris. First stored at the Invalides, they are then placed on four pillars of the grid which surrounds the Tuileries courtyard. In 1808, they crowned the triumphal arch of the Carrousel built to the glory of the Napoleonic armies by Percier and Fontaine. Bellangé's painting shows the triumphal arch as it stood at the entrance to the courtyard of the Tuileries Palace; the quadriga attached to a tank dominates with its splendor the grandiose setting of the military reviews of the Empire.

The presence of horses in Paris under the Empire gives rise to many other representations: of the frontispiece of the Description of Egypt where Napoleon-Apollo leads the quadriga to the Etruscan roller vase by Antoine Bérenger, where the large golden horses, with black manes, symbolically pull Laocoon's chariot.

Restored in 1815, with the fall of the Empire, the horses resume their place in Venice, on the portico of Saint-Marc. To replace them on the triumphal arch of the Carrousel, Charles X entrusted the sculptor Bosio with the creation of a new quadriga.


"To train the taste, to warm the genius, to arouse artists"

Bonaparte certainly knew that the horses of Venice would appear as a glorious trophy of the Italian campaign. But their installation in Paris manifests more the desire to bring together in the heart of the Great Nation the exemplary achievements of human genius than the pride of exhibiting the spoils of war. These collections of works of art which seem inadmissible to us today do not then appear so revolting. The antique responds to the needs of the time, to the spirit of the Revolution as to that of the Enlightenment: in Venice, the chemist Berthollet and the Milanese painter Appiani took part in the choice of works.

Exhibiting exceptional objects such as these ancient horses is used for "public education". The Revolution put an end to private royal, aristocratic or ecclesiastical collections, and replaced them with the idea of ​​museums and libraries open to the public. Taking the great masterpieces of recently conquered regions to group them together in the Louvre or to decorate public monuments is part of the same perspective. No masterpiece has in fact been diverted for private use. By sending these works, Bonaparte eagerly executes an order of the Directory and seeks to surround Paris, capital of the Great Nation, with complete glory by bringing together models from Antiquity; it is also an opportunity for him to show the latest achievements in the industry.

The presentations imagined at the time are intended to strike people's minds. The main thing is to show the objects "suitable for forming taste, for arousing genius and for arousing artists". On the occasion of these festivals as in the first museums, the works and objects are at most classified by genre, and it is considered that the beauty and the emotion which emanate from a great work are enough to galvanize the talents.

  • Appiani (Andrea)
  • antiquity
  • Triumphal arch
  • napoleonic wars
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • neoclassicism
  • Paris
  • Venice
  • Italy
  • Art
  • Collection of works
  • Description of Egypt
  • Freedom Day
  • Arles
  • St. Mark's horses
  • Basilica


Geneviève BRESC-BAUTIER and Xavier DECTOT, Art or politics? Arches, statues and columns of Paris, Paris, Artistic action of the City of Paris, 1999 Amable de FOURNOUX, Napoleon and Venice, the Eagle and the LionParis, Fallois, 2002.Wilhelm von HUMBOLDT, Parisian Journal (1797-1799), translated from German by Elisabeth BEYER, Paris, Solin-Actes Sud, 2001. Jean TULARD, Napoleon Dictionary, Paris, Fayard, 1987. Jean TULARD, Napoleon or the Myth of the Savior, Paris, Fayard, 1986.


1. This 75-year-old man was arrested at his home, “rue Neuve-Saint-François n ° 14”, on 23 Brumaire, Year II (13 November 1793), and convinced “of having buried silverware and a coat of arms in his home. , species of gold and silver and portraits of Capet, his wife and his children ”. According to the record, Vanesson died in the hospice of the Revolutionary Tribunal before being called to appear on 14 Vendémiaire Year III (5 October 1794).

2. Another example of this miniature has a pendant ring and a very thick glass serving as a magnifying glass (Bordeaux, Musée des Arts décoratifs).

3. The miniature of the National Archives is posterior, like that of François Dumont kept in the Louvre, to the death of the eldest son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François, the first Dauphin, who died on June 4, 1789 , which is not shown.

4. Museum of Decorative Arts in Bordeaux. Jeanvrot collection. Inv. 58.1.6151. Carnavalet Museum, Paris. Gift of J. Pierpont-Morgan (1914). Inv. OM3308.

5. The miniature of Carnavalet presents some variations in the rendering of the faces; the king and his daughter wear dark blue clothes rather than purple; the jewels adorning the queen's hairstyle are less numerous.

6. The Duchess of Angoulême then lived in Warsaw and England. Returning to France with the Restoration, she experienced a new exile in 1830 and died in Frohsdorf in 1851.

7. Yet it was only the kings of Judas from the Bible!

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "Presence of horses from Venice to Paris, from 1798 to 1815"

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