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Vincenzo Vela

The Last Days of Napoleon


Vincenzo Vela
Ligornetto, Switzerland, 1820 – Mendrisio, Switzerland, 1891


The Last Days of Napoleon


After 1867


Patinated bronze


43 x 30 x 39.5 cm


Cast F. Barbedienne, Paris


Ben Weider Collection, inv. 2008.413


Western Art

Swiss by birth, the sculptor Vincenzo Vela is now considered by art historians to be one of the greatest of Italian sculptors. Together with Antonio Canova and his imitators, Vela produced neoclassical sculptures and later turned to “verismo,” the realism-inflected psychological approach that characterizes the Italian school of sculpture. This smaller copy in bronze of Vela’s original exemplifies “verismo”: the haggard face of the prisoner of Saint Helena, enfeebled by illness, shows regret and bitterness over past defeats. His fist on the map indicates the terrain of his doomed Russian campaign. Vela was sufficiently distant in time from his subject to be able to present a realistic, unidealized portrayal of the fallen Emperor, restrained and subtle. The marble sculpture caused a sensation at the 1867 Exposition universelle in Paris. The Franco-Prussian War was raging, and there was widespread nostalgia for the First Empire. Napoleon III purchased the work at first sight.

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