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Napoleon in Umbria (1797-1817)

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Detail of the Coronation of Napoleon (ca. 1808)

by Jacques-Louis David, Louvre, Paris

Treaty of Tolentino (1797)

Napoleon Bonaparte assumed command of the revolutionary Army of Italy in 1796 and soon defeated the Piedmontese and then the Austrians in northern Italy.  His immediate plan was to press on for Vienna, but he first needed to secure his southern flank.  He therefore occupied the Papal Legations of Ferrara and Bologna and marched on Ravenna.  Pope Pius VI was forced to sign the Armistice of Bologna (1796) in order to avoid further incursions into the Papal States.  Under it terms, he was required to pay huge reparations that included the donation of about 100 important works of art.

The Austrians managed to hold Mantua for a period and Pius VI wrongly calculated that this would provide the springboard for a counter-attack.  He therefore delayed making the agreed reparations, a decision that proved to be disastrous when Mantua fell to the French early in 1797.  French troops swept through the marches and then occupied both Perugia and Foligno (where they were generally welcomed by the people). 

This occupation ended after only a month with the signing of the Treaty of Tolentino (1797), under the terms of which Pius VI was required to pay even higher reparations.  He was also forced concede both Ferrara and Bologna to the French.  In June 1797, all the territory that the French held in northern Italy was consolidated as the Cisalpine Republic.

Roman Republic (1798-9)

The French re-invaded the Papal States in December 1797 after a French general was shot during a riot in Rome.  They took Perugia, Foligno and then Rome in February 1798.  Pius VI, who had fled to Siena, was stripped of his temporal power and the French instituted Roman Republic.  It was split into eight administrative units, two of which covered Umbria:

  1. the Dipartimento del Clitunno, with its capital at Spoleto; and

  2. the Dipartimento del Trasimeno, with its capital at Perugia.

When Pius VI refused to renounce his temporal authority, General Berthier arrested him and took him to Siena and then to Florence.  When the forces of the so-called Second Coalition (Austria, Russia and Britain) invaded Italy in 1799, he was taken to France, where he died shortly afterwards. 

Although many citizens in Umbria welcomed the French and enthusiastically erected trees of liberty, others supported the Church.  The number in the latter camp increased when the exactions of the French became clear.  This led to a number of revolts

  1. One of the most serious of which occurred at Città di Castello in April 1798, when French soldiers under General Giuseppe Lecchi committed a number of atrocities and stole or damaged important works of art (see below).  Rebels from the countryside subsequently took the city, replaced the tree of Liberty with a crucifix and massacred the French garrison and the hated governor, Giulio Bufalini.  A French force sent from Perugia retook the city some weeks later.  Many of the rebels escaped into Tuscany, but the city was sacked.

  2. In August, there were a series of revolts in the countryside around Spoleto, including Monteleone di Spoleto, Casci, Norcia and Trevi.  These threatened the French lines of communication, and General Paul Thiébault was sent from Rome to suppress them.  This he did without needing to resort to force.

In November 1798, King Ferdinand IV of Naples attempted to drive the French out of central Italy.  The Austrians sent him General Karl Mack von Lieberich to command his army.  The British provided Sir John Acton as an advisor, supported by the British Ambassador, Sir William Hamilton, and a British naval squadron under Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson.   General Jean Étienne Championnet, commander-in-chief of the  French army, abandoned Rome and established his headquarters at Civita de Castellana, south of Perugia.  From there, he launched a counter-offensive that took him back to Rome after 17 days.  By the end of the month, he had driven the Neapolitan army  back behind its own frontier and he went on to take Capua and Naples.

In November 1798, the regions of the Roman Republic were required to form battalions of soldiers.  In Umbria:

  1. the French Major Farje led the Trasimeno Battalion; and

  2. the Pole Giovanni (Jan) Turski led the Clitunno battalion.

Neapolitan forces loyal to the allies drove the French from Rome in September 1799 and the Roman Republic ended.

Austro-Russian forces drove the French from the Cisalpine Republic in 1799.  However, the Russians left the alliance shortly afterwards, and the tide of fortune turned to favour the French. 

Italian Republic (1802-5)

Pope Pius VII was elected in Venice in 1800 at an enclave held under Austrian protection.  The Austrians also persuaded the Neapolitans to leave Rome so that Pius VII could take up residence there and resume temporal control over at least part of the Papal States.  He reached a concordat with Napoleon (by now First Consul) in 1801 under which Napoleon recognised Catholicism as the religion of the people of France.  He also acknowledged papal sovereignty over the rump of the Papal States, while Pius VII acknowledged his sovereignty over Romagna (including Bologna).

After the Treaty of Luneville (1801) between Austria and France, Italy ceased to be a theatre of war (although hostilities between Britain and France continued until 1803).  The Austrians recognised French hegemony in northern Italy and the Cisalpine Republic was reconstituted.   It was renamed in 1802 as the Republic of Italy, with Milan as its capital.  Pius VII reached a concordat with the Italian Republic in 1803, under the terms of which Catholicism was recognised as the official religion of the region. 

Pius VII attended Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor in Paris in 1804 (see the illustration above). 

Kingdom of Italy (1805-14)

In 1805, Napoleon had himself crowned with the iron crown of Lombardy in the cathedral of Milan, thereby announcing to the world his status as the new Charlemagne.  The erstwhile Italian Republic (which now included most of the Veneto) became the Kingdom of Italy.  Napoleon appointed his step-son Eugene de Beauharnais (the son of his wife, Josephine) as Viceroy in Milan.  Venice was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1806.  In the same year, Napoleon deposed King Ferdinand IV of Naples and installed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte as King of Naples.

Despite Napoleon’s concordats with Pius VII, he occupied Ancona and much of the Adriatic coast in 1805 as a defensive move against the threat from the renewed coalition of Austria, Russia and France.  Although the threat on land was ended with the French victory at Austerlitz in December of that year, the naval threat from Britain (the victors at Trafalgar earlier in the war) remained.  He therefore ordered King Joseph of Naples to take Ostia and Cività Vecchia (the ports of Rome) in 1806.  These were but two of a series of events that progressively soured his relations with Pius VII.

Napoleon ordered the magnificently named General Sextius Alexandre François de Miollis to occupy Rome in February 1808, and followed this with the formal annexation of the Papal States in May 1809.  Pius VII, who took refuge in the Quirinal Palace, excommunicated “all robbers of Peter’s patrimony”.  He was arrested and interned at Savona. 

General de Miollis was appointed governor of the newly annexed territory, which was organised into two administrative units:

  1. the Dipartimento del Tevere, with its capital at Rome, under the prefect Count Camille de Tournon; and

  2. the Dipartimento del Trasimeno, with its capital at Spoleto, under the prefect, Baron Antoine-Marie Roederer.

The Kingdom was a dependency of the French Empire, which exploited its resources to enrich France. 

In 1810, Napoleon pressed the moderate General de Miollis “to show more vigour” in relation to the decree of that year that abolished religious houses.  However, it seems that the rabidly anti-clerical Baron Roederer needed no such encouragement.  In 1812, another decree that General de Miollis could not moderate required the citizens of the region to take an oath of loyalty.  Napoleon also deported Pius VII to France.  These measures engendered widespread resentment.

When Napoleon was forced to abdicate in 1814, Eugène de Beauharnais attempted to be crowned as King of Italy, but his plans were foiled by an insurrection in Milan.  When the Austrians took the city, he duly surrendered and was exiled to Bavaria.  The territory was annexed to Austria under the Treaty of Paris (1814).

Seizure of Art in Umbria

As noted above, the Armistice of Bologna (1796) required Pius VI to pay huge reparations that included the donation of about 100 important works of art.  This provision was confirmed under Treaty of Tolentino (1797), and marked the start of the systematic expropriation of the finest Italian art.

The artist Jean Baptiste Wicar was already active in Napoleon’s campaigns to requisition art from conquered nations for the Musée Centrale des Arts.  (Napoleon had established this gallery in what had been the Palais du Louvre in 1793 to house art from the French royal collection and from the collections of aristocrats who had been executed or who had fled abroad).  Wicar’s work, which began in the Austrian Netherlands in 1794, continued in Italy after the signing of the Treaty of Tolentino.

Three works in Perugia were specified for confiscation under this provision:

  1. two in San Francesco al Prato:

  2. the Resurrection of Christ (1499) by Perugino; and

  3. the Pala Oddi (ca. 1503) by Raphael; and

  4. the main panel of the Monteluce Altarpiece (1505-25) in Santa Maria di Monteluce, which had been designed by Raphael and executed after his death by Giulio Romano and Giovanni Francesco Penni.

The subsequent programme of confiscation, which was carried out under the direction of Jean-Antoine Gros and Jacques-Pierre Tinet, in fact secured some 30 works from the city. 

As noted above, Città di Castello also suffered when it was “liberated” in  1798 by French forces under the Italian General Giuseppe Lecchi.  Lecchi himself “received” (or more probably extorted) the altarpiece (1504) of the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael from San Francesco there.  The Santuario di Santa Maria del Belvedere was sacked and the venerated image (1456) of the Madonna and Child by Giovanni di Piamonte in Santa Maria delle Grazie was damaged. 

The confiscation of ecclesiastical property and the suppression of religious orders and lay confraternities in 1810 meant that a vast number of works of art subsequently passed to the ownership of the French crown.  This offered a new opportunity to add to the collection of the Musée Napoléon (later the Musée du Louvre) in Paris and to endow the Musei Capitolini in Rome.  Baron Dominique-Vivant Denon, the director of the Musée Napoléon, gave Baron Roederer a list of the works to be confiscated for dispatch Paris.  He mandated Agostino Tofanelli, the director of  the Museo Capitolino, to find the works on the list and send them to Paris.  Tofanelli duly assembled another 48 works of art in Perugia in a single day in 1812, although Giulio Cesarei, the indefatigable mayor of the city, managed to arrange that those works that were still used for cult purposes should be returned to the appropriate churches.  Unfortunately, these concessions were later revoked and the original 48 works finally left for Rome in November, 1813.  They arrived in Paris in 1814 just as the allied forces entered the city after the fall of Napoleon.

Pius VII sent Antonio Canova to Paris in order to negotiate for the return of the confiscated works of art.  The allies were reluctant to antagonise the newly restored King Louis XVIII of France, and Canova initially made little headway.  However, after Napoleon's escape from Elba and his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the mood changed to some extent, and Canova succeeded in recovering about half of the works in question.  This was despite the fierce resistance of Dominique-Vivant Denon, who remained Director of what had become the Musée Royale.

The returned works were, however, mostly detained in Rome: Cardinal Ercole Consalvi wrote to Giulio Cesarei on October 8th, 1817 to explain that they had been returned on condition that they were exposed in Rome for the education of the students who came from all over Europe.

Read more:

The definitive work on the French seizures of Umbrian art is :

C. Galassi, “Il Tesoro Perduto : le Requisizioni Napoleoniche a Perugia e la Fortuna della Scuola Umbra in Francia tra 1797 e 1815”, (2004) Perugia

See also:

C. Galassi, “Napoleonic Requisitions and the Myth of Raphael: Notes on the Removal of the Città di Castello Betrothal of the Virgin”, in

  1. T. Henry and F. F. Mancini (Eds), “Gli Esordi di Raffaello: tra Urbino, Città di Castello e Perugia”, (2006) Città di Castello

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