Thursday, March 31, 2011

Napoleonic museum opens in Cuba

Napoleonic museum opens in Cuba

HAVANA — Napoleon Bonaparte goes on display in Cuba on Friday with the
reopening of the Napoleonic Museum of Havana, which boasts the largest
collection of French revolutionary and imperial items outside of Europe.

Napoleon never set foot in Cuba but his physician, Corsican-born
Francesco Antommarchi, who treated him during his last days in exile on
Saint Helen, moved here after the emperor died in 1821, bringing with
him the French icon's death mask.

The death mask is the centerpiece of the museum, which after a
three-year renovation now includes some 8,000 French Revolutionary and
Imperial artifacts and takes up four floors of an ornate
Renaissance-style Havana palace.

The museum is "a contribution towards the study of an event of universal
relevance that concerns many people, including those in Latin America,"
said Havana historian Eusebio Leal at the museum inauguration ceremony.

"This is not a monument glorifying conquest or the cult of militarism,"
he added.

The collection includes paintings, statues, clothing and weapons from
the era, and a library of some 5,000 books relating to the period in
French, Spanish and English.

It also includes a gold watch the descendents of Antommarchi gave
President Raul Castro in the 1960s, at a time when Julio Lobo, a wealthy
businessman and fervent Napoleon admirer, collected most of the items.

French ambassador Jean Mendelson was at the inaugural event along with
Alix de Foresta, 84, the widow of a descendant of Napoleon's youngest
brother Jerome.

The representative of the Bonapartes, who had visited Cuba in 1951 with
her husband, was thrilled by the ceremony and donated a porcelain dinner
service to the museum.

In his opening presentation historian Leal mentioned Francisco de
Miranda and Simon Bolivar, South American leaders in the early 19th
century wars of independence against Spain, who were strongly influenced
by the French Revolution.

Miranda actively participated in the French Revolution, rising to the
rank of general, and his name is engraved on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

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