The Italian presence in France during the Napoleonic age: a modern system of the arts reflected in the mise en scene of a classical ideal
This project, directed by Barbara Bonifava and founded by a grant for young researchers of the Swiss National Science Foundation, seeks to explore the intricacies of the cultural and artistic transfert between Italy and France in a precise chronological time period – from the advent of the Directory (1795) to the Napoleonic triumph (1799-1815) –, focusing on the singular and well-defined setting of Napoleon's so-called “Italian court” in Paris and the urban context within which it moved. It attempts to open new angles from which to study the closely-woven dialogue underlying the encounter between Italian and French architectural culture in a period that was particularly active in the development of an idea of modernity that was to have profound international repercussions. This will be accomplished by examining the various and as yet unpublished details that can be discovered by focusing on certain protagonists and their respective existential choices within the diversified scenarios generated by a fervent Italian presence in the cosmopolitan capital of France. The research aims at compiling an exhaustive catalogue of the vast and highly charged network of social relationships that reflect the manifold characteristics of a fecund cultural and architectural history bound to questions of style, taste, national identity and artistic heritage. This history is will be recomposed analytically, piece by piece, starting from an investigation centered on Giovanni Battista Sommariva (1760-1826) and Francesco Melzi d’Eril (1753-1816), emblematic figures in the new Napoleonic power structure and dynamic interpreters of roles and representations that sought to promote and diffuse an Italian cultural identity, in France, in which the Ancients played a decisive role. A thorough examination of two fundamental and closely-interwoven themes – the Napoleonic court and the mise en scène of a classical ideal – will pursue the complex itineraries of the circulation and exchange of men, expertise, models, projects and superimposition of cultures and languages. This will bring to light and make it possible to carefully analyze the different perspectives of the fecund Italian influence on the cultural and architectural renewal that took place in Napoleonic France and can be inferred by singling out of two of the many protagonists of that Italian contribution.