Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast, will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on May 11, 2021. It tells the history of Napoleon’s looting of Europe’s art through the story of The Wedding Feast at Cana, a Renaissance masterpiece painted in 1563 by Paolo Veronese in Venice and seized by the French in 1797 for the Louvre.
"Recently it [the Veronese] has hung opposite, and in the the shadow of, the ‘Mona Lisa”—a poignant end to an absorbing story of conflict and culture."
“Cynthia Saltzman has mined a comparatively minor bit of cultural vandalism and produced an absolute gem . . . Plunder is captivating reading, a chronicle full of outsized personalities.”
— STEVE DONOGHUE, OPEN LETTERS REVIEW
“Cynthia Saltzman, the author of two previous books about art, exposes the rich contradictions of the 1796 Italian campaign through the story of a prized Venetian masterpiece . . . What was Europe to make of the painting’s new home, a vast public museum stocked with war booty? In Saltzman’s scrupulous telling, there was rancor, but also awe.”
— HUGH EAKIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"Napoleon Bonaparte, one of history’s most prolific art looters, plundered famous works from across Europe to stock the newly created Louvre Museum. In this fascinating tale, art historian Cynthia Saltzman describes how he stole one of Venice’s most important paintings and why, 225 years later, it remains in Paris."
— MONITOR REVIEWERS
“[A] well-written, carefully constructed, artistic gem of a book . . . When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, he could talk the talk, or at least the clichés, of revolutionary enlightenment, but the reality, as Saltzman shows, was a monstrous egotism to which all other values and representations had to bow. That might seem depressing, but there is also joy and interest aplenty in the book. The account of the painter Veronese’s skill, eye, and work, and of the placing of hispaintings, is one of a skilled art historian who is both perceptive and gifted, showing an appreciation of the multi-faceted character of paintings and their subsequent history. Moreover, Saltzman can convey her knowledge with clarity as well as wisdom . . . Saltzman also includes a fascinating account of the struggles over restitution . . . This is an excellent book . . . Beautifully produced and handsomely illustrated, the book is an attractive and salutary account of art and war.”
“Extraordinary . . . Saltzman’s latest work is an exquisite example of micro-history in which she demonstrates a meticulous attention worthy of Veronese himself while tracing his renowned painting’s fate across time and geography. In so doing, she provides her readers with intriguing and sumptuous forays into art history, military history, art restoration and preservation, the role of the museum in social and political life, the ethics of art appropriation, and the polemics of art repatriation . . . Saltzman illuminates her narrative through richly drawn profiles of the characters consequential to the destiny of The Wedding Feast at Cana, from Napoleon himself to a number of idiosyncratic curators, restorers, diplomats, and politicians.”
—JENNY MCPHEE, Air Mail
—ROGER LOWENSTEIN, The Wall Street Journal
"In the midst of his Italian campaign, Napoleon Bonaparte stole a painting from a monastery in Venice. Cynthia Saltzman has turned this forgotten episode into a highly original work of history . . . She depicts [Napoleon], with masterly economy, as a brilliant tactician riddled with personal conceits and vanity. The author deftly shifts between Napoleon’s military conquests and his wholesale art thefts . . . Saltzman seems equally conversant with 18th-century art criticism and the period’s politics . . . Plunder is supported by prodigious research . . . [Saltzman] has written a distinctive study that transcends both art and history and forces us to explore the connections between the two."
"'Taking without taste, without choice, is ignorance and near vandalism,' Napoleon’s advisers reminded him. He had no such intention. For a Venetian war trophy he set his sights on Veronese’s masterpiece, which was then ‘liberated’ from a damp wall in 1797, wrapped around a cylinder, and shipped in a crate to the Louvre, where—half its lifetime later—it still hangs today. Cynthia Saltzman offers up a rich, thrilling master class on the art of power and the power of art, contemplating triumphs of both kinds, as well as the fate of glory when pinned to a wall."
—STACY SCHIFF, author of The Witches and Cleopatra
Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast, by Cynthia Saltzman ’71 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30). “Napoleon Bonaparte was a plunderer of art, one of history’s most accomplished,” writes Saltzman, of the cultural project accompanying his political ones. She focuses on the 1797 theft of Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana, from the wall of a monastery in Venice, where it had been painted more than two centuries earlier in a superb space proportioned by Andrea Palladio. The Louvre, one is reminded, did not just emerge as a staggering museum (the Veronese hangs opposite the Mona Lisa), and cultural appropriation is not solely a problem of the past.
—HARVARD MAGAZINE, May-June 2021
"By recounting the long, strange journey of this painting through unsuspected wars, bloodshed, perilous seas, and finally, its close escape from Nazi hands, Saltzman makes one appreciate the beauty of The Wedding Feast at Cana anew. That it still exists is a miracle all by itself. I hope she will keep on looking for new miracles."
—MERYLE SECREST, The American Scholar
“An engrossing, tumultuous history of a Renaissance painting.”
“Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana is at the center of this artful, deeply researched, and sumptuous account of Napoleon’s plunder of European art. Cynthia Saltzman uses her story to bring to vivid life a large and colorful cast of characters, ranging from ambitious artists to plotting diplomats. This book is a feast all its own.”
—MARK STEVENS, coauthor with Annalyn Swan of De Kooning: An American Master and Francis Bacon: Revelations
“Meticulously investigated, Cynthia Saltzman’s Plunder is an epic account, as grand as the painting that is at the heart of this tragic story.”
—XAVIER F. SALOMON, Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator at the Frick Collection
“Cynthia Saltzman guides us on a fascinating journey from sixteenth-century Venice to Napoleonic France, telling a story as spellbinding—and as peopled with vibrant characters— as Veronese’s canvas itself. Plunder shows how even the greatest masterpieces can fall victim to power politics, personal ambition, and the grim vicissitudes of history.”
—ROSS KING, author of Mad Enchantment, The Judgment of Paris, and Brunelleschi’s Dome
“With evocative prose, Cynthia Saltzman traces the journey of one of the greatest of all Italian paintings—Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana—from the refectory of a monastery in Venice to Paris, where it faces the Mona Lisa in the busiest room of the Louvre. This lively account offers valuable perspective to all who care about the world’s artistic treasures and our responsibility to preserve them for future generations.”
—FREDERICK ILCHMAN, Chair of the Art of Europe at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Chairman of Save Venice
“There are many extraordinary personages in the pages of Cynthia Saltzman’s Plunder, but the
most complicated and involving characters are the paintings Saltzman describes and gives life to, especially Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana, which helped to establish the Louvre as the world’s greatest art museum. Saltzman’s chronicle of the painting’s creation and its fate is deeply absorbing and—in its discussion of the ethics of art appropriation—sharply provocative, and her analysis of the way art and politics are interwoven in national identity is both timely and timeless.”