By ALAN SMASON
M. S. Rau Antiques, the renowned Royal Street dealer of rare art works and antiquities, is holding a special 250th birthday for their favorite Frenchman, Napoleon Bonaparte, the legendary soldier and conqueror who became emperor of France and nearly made it to New Orleans before his eventual capture and imprisonment.
Born a Corsican, Napoleon later became a citizen of France in the years following revolution and upheaval and brought forth an age bearing his own name that was emblematic of his quest for glory and enrichment. He will be remembered in a display the antiques dealer has assembled of several pieces actually owned by him and others remembering him through visual arts.
The self-guided tours will be available at the gallery located at 630 Royal Street from now through Saturday, August 17 during regular business hours from 10:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m.
A grand birthday celebration recognizing his actual birthdate is slated for Thursday, August 15 from 12:30 – 3:00 p.m. with champagne and desserts being offered to the public.
Rau held a month-long celebration of the Napoleonic age two years ago and several of the pieces on display are still with the firm, but several new pieces have been added to make this birthday celebration even more special.
Among the new items on display this time are an eerie Napoleonic Prisoner of War Guillotine fashioned from mutton bone with several moving parts and a new bronze statue that shows a regal-looking Napoleon mounted atop a steed. An actual bronze death mask of Napoleon – one of several that were made posthumously– is on display along with a desk which was fashioned for him to use while he was in exile on St. Helena.
A golden plate warmer by Biennais that was formerly owned by the French emperor and a ceramic footbath made for him to use while he was imprisoned are both on display. While he actually used the plate warmer, Napoleon was never allowed to use the footbath made by George Bullock because it bears an image of a laurel wreath often associated with his conquests.
Several pieces of art about the French leader can be found including Thomas Rossiter’s “Napoleon’s Tomb,” a painting showing the emperor’s tomb at lower left, but also displaying the figures of two trees standing in the center which hold the invisible image of the French dictator. In addition, there are several letters of correspondence from various government officials from the era that are framed for viewing.
Napoleon’s actual camel saddle from his Regiment des Dromedaries used during his Egyptian campaign is also on view.
Several articles authentic to the period, but not necessarily owned by Napoleon are also on display. This includes a French “Nécessaire de Voyage,” which was used by the wealthy who traveled to provide for items used while dining or grooming. Also of interest are a pair of neo-Greek design Ormolu pedestals by Charles Guillame-Diehl bearing Egyptian symbols frequently used by the emperor to legitimize his reign.
“Napoleon: Celebrating 250 Years” continues at M.S. Rau from now through Saturday with the birthday party on Thursday, August 15 from 12:30 – 3:00.