September 11 1815: Works in the Louvre

On September 11 1815, Lord Castlereagh, in Paris, writes to Lord Liverpool about the ongoing discussions of what to do with the artworks in the Louvre. The Louvre had been filled with art taken by Napoleon in his conquests throughout Europe. Antonio Canova, [pictured above] an Italian sculptor from the Republic of Venice, had been charged by the Pope with negotiating the return of the artworks taken by Napoleon from the Vatican and Rome.

Paris, September 11, 1815.

My dear Lord—In addition to what I have stated in my despatch and note on the subject of the works in the Louvre, I think it right to mention that Mr. Hamilton, who is intimate with Canova, the celebrated artist, expressly sent here by the Pope, with a letter to the King, to reclaim what was taken from Rome, distinctly ascertained from him that the Pope, if successful, neither could nor would, as Pope, sell any of the chefs- de ouvres that belonged to the See, and in which he has, in fact, only a life interest.

The French, when they plundered the Vatican, ignorantly brought away some works of little or no value. These Canova has authority either to cede to the King, or to sell, to facilitate the return of the more valuable objects; but it is quite clear that no sum of money could secure to the Prince Regent any of the distinguished works from his Holiness’s collection. The other claimants would be still less likely to sell. In taking, therefore, the disinterested line, we have, in fact, made no real sacrifice, whilst we shall escape odium and misrepresentation; and if, through the weight of the Prince Regent’s interference, the Pope should ultimately recover his property, his Royal Highness would probably feel it more consistent with his munificence to give this old man a small sum out of the French contribution, to carry home his gallery, than to see him exposed to the reproach of selling the refuse, without any strict right to do so, in order to replace what is really valuable in the Vatican.

I cannot yet judge what turn this business will take. Russia wishes for a composition between the King and the claimants; but, as you will see by Count Nesselrode’s note, will not insist upon it, but will rather insist, as far as a protest goes, against any force being used. This is a little too late, after having patiently witnessed their particular Allies, the Prussians, remove by force not only all the works of art taken away from the Prussian dominions, but those plundered from Cologne and other towns on the left bank of the Rhine—possessions which have since been acquired by Prussia. The Prussians have also assisted the Grand Dukes of Hesse, Mecklenburg, and others of the minor Powers in the north of Germany, to recover in like manner what belonged to them. This proceeding of the Prussians makes it almost indispensable for the King of the Netherlands to replace in the churches of Belgium the pictures of which they were despoiled. His Majesty, I believe, feels this so strongly, that he would rather sacrifice his own family collection, now in the Louvre, than fail in this act of political duty to his new subjects, who, devoted to their religion, would receive such a mark of favour from their Protestant sovereign with sentiments of peculiar gratitude.

I cannot see, therefore, the possibility of the Duke of Wellington, as the military commander of the troops of the King, doing otherwise than giving his aid to remove by force, if necessary, these objects; and it becomes Great Britain not less to see the same measures of justice distributed to her immediate ally, as that which has been obtained by the adjacent States. The protection of the Pope and the other Italian princes more immediately belongs to the Emperor of Austria; and, though his Imperial Majesty is alive to the subject, I think he will be very reluctant to use force; and yet without force I do not believe the thing can be done, as the King, whatever he may feel of remorse as to the mode in which these works came into his possession, will be very reluctant by any act of cession, or even of composition, on his part, to take upon himself any of the responsibility of their removal from Paris.

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