As Befits a Legend: Building a Tomb for Napoleon, 1840-1861

As Befits a Legend: Building a Tomb for Napoleon, 1840-1861

As Befits a Legend: Building a Tomb for Napoleon, 1840-1861

As Befits a Legend: Building a Tomb for Napoleon, 1840-1861

Synopsis

One of the most important funerary monuments in Europe is the tomb of Napoleon, built in the Church of the Invalides in Paris between 1840 and 1861. As Befits a Legend is the first comprehensive examination of its construction process, historical context, and political and social meanings. It is also the only work published in English about this unique structure. Michael Paul Driskel's study, based on extensive archival research in France, documents the problems inherent in building the appropriate monument for such a controversial figure and the public debate it generated. Following a detailed and illuminating account of the range of proposals put forward, Driskel concludes that the form of the structure represents a symbolic mediation of conflicting demands. Louis-Tullis Visconti, a major Parisian architect who was officially commissioned for the project, is the subject of intensive scrutiny to determine the nature of his personal contribution to the design, as well as his relationship with themany sculptors involved in the collective construction process. Here Driskel offers a significant contribution to the sociology of architecture and to the question of what "authorship" means in an undertaking of this kind. As Befits a Legend bridges the disciplines of history and art history and will appeal to historians of architecture, sculpture, society, and culture, as well as those readers fascinated with the history and legend of Napoleon. Nearly 100 photographs of 19th-century statuary, drawings, and lithographs complement the text.

Excerpt

What is an architect? Or in what sense is the architect of a public monument its "author"? These questions might at first sight seem straightforward, admitting relatively simple answers. In reality, however, they are fraught with difficulty when the point of reference is a project of great complexity and social significance, such as the tomb of Napoleon at the Church of the Invalides in Paris. Therefore, one challenging problem to be explored in this book is the origin of the design for a major public monument and its successive elaborations, or the question of who, if anyone, should be given personal, authorial credit for this landmark in the history of nineteenth-century architecture.

As usually practiced, architectural history is principally concerned with the creativity of individual architects, design problems solved by significant works, and the historical or contextual influences that determined particular architectural forms or solutions. In short supply is detailed attention to the actual interpersonal process within which buildings and monuments are constructed. This study will fill this gap to some small degree and contribute to what one might describe as a phenomenology of the nuts and bolts of architectural praxis. In closely examining the activities of Ludovico-Tullis (Louis) Visconti, the official architect of the tomb of Napoleon, and his interaction with all the parties involved in the monument, one will gain a much better idea of what constituted the vie quotidienne of a successful nineteenth-century architect or the mundane reality of the nonaesthetic matters that occupied the greater part of his professional life. Therefore, in this regard the present study might be seen as a contribution to the sociology of the architectural profession.

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