Quatremre de Quincy

Although Lenoir had worked hard to organize his museum, he seems to have had little appreciation of the artistic qualities of mediaeval art; to him, the organization of the collection was mainly a didactic exercise. The final critical blow came from Antoine-Chryso-stome Quatremère de Quincy (1755-1849), a classical archaeologist and art critic, who himself had little appreciation of the Middle Ages and hated museums, but he was particularly convinced that works of art should be kept in their original locations. Anticipating the Futurists of the twentieth century, Quatremère considered a museum the end of art (Léon,

Figure 4.1 Musée des Monuments Français was opened to public in 1795 with A. Lenoir as its curator. Here the interior of the room of the seventeenth century is shown. (In the collection of Derek Linstrum)

1951:84). To displace monuments, to collect their fragments, and to classify them systematically, means to establish a dead nation: 'it is to attend its own funeral while still alive; it is to kill the art to make history out of it; it is really not to make history, but an epitaph.' (Quatremère, 1989:48).

In 1816, after the fall of Napoleon, Quatre-mère was nominated secretary of the Academy of Beaux-Arts, as well as Intendant général des arts et monuments publiques. On 24 April of that year, he ordered that the objects that Lenoir had collected in the museum had to be returned to their original owners. In some cases this could be done, while in others they were taken to different collections or were lost, because the original place no longer existed. In 1776, Quatremère had travelled to Rome, remaining there four years. He had read Winckelmann, had met Mengs and David, and had become a personal friend of Antonio Canova, the future director of museums and antiquities in Rome. He continued his studies in France and England, was elected a representative of Paris in 1789 and became a member of the Comité d'instruction publique in 1791. Quatremère was especially involved in defending the arts and artists, and also had a special interest in legislation. Unfortunately, he encountered political difficulties, and was first imprisoned and later exiled.

When Napoleon, according to the peace treaty of Tolentino in 1797, obliged Pius VI to deliver to France the so called 'bouquet de Napoléort, Quatremère was outraged and wrote from prison a series of letters, published as Lettres au Général Miranda, his protector. The 'bouquet included rare books and manuscripts as well as a hundred of the most famous Italian works of art such as the Apollo of Belvedere, the Laocoon, the Belvedere Torso, paintings by Raphael, Correggio and Guido Reni. According to Quatremère, these works of art belonged to Italy, which was the great school of art. The works had a special significance in Italy which was lost if they were brought elsewhere. Antique Rome, he said, was like 'a great book of which time had destroyed or scattered the pages. Every day modern research can fill in the gaps and repair the lacunae'.14 Rome was a museum, which was, in fact, composed of:

statues, colossi, temples, obelisks, triumphal columns, thermae, circuses, amphitheatres, triumphal arches, tombs, stuccoes, frescos, basreliefs, inscriptions, fragments, ornaments, building materials, furnishings, tools, etc. etc. But, it was also composed of places, sites, hills, quarries, ancient tales, respective positions of ruined towns, geographical relationships, mutual relations of all objects, memories, local traditions, still existing customs, parallels and connec-

tions which can be made only in the country itself.15

Quatremère maintained that Greek works, divorced from their country, lacked the humanity and tranquillity of Greece. Similarly, if the weathered River Gods were brought from the banks of the Tiber to Paris, they would only look like muddy pieces of stone. There would be no time to enjoy them; spectators would remain indifferent. To Quatremère, despoiling Italy of her classical masterpieces meant attacking Europe's principal source of learning. In 1818, Quatremère wrote a series of letters to Canova to Rome concerning the Elgin marbles, then displayed in the British Museum. Here his attitude was different from the case of Rome, and he accepted the removal of the Greek monuments in order to guarantee their conservation. At their original site they would have been subject to daily destruction and pillage (Quatremère, 1989:91).

The strong message that works of art belonged in their cultural and geographical context was well received by other artists in France. The concept came to be applied in the French context: i.e., mediaeval sculptures were to remain in their architectural context. This was, in fact, one of Quatremère's main arguments against Lenoir's museum. Another analogous collection of antiquities had been undertaken in Toulouse by Alexandre Du Mège (1786-1862), who was especially enthusiastic about the Pyrénées area as seen in his publication of L'Archéologie pyrénéenne. Conscious of the destruction during the revolution, Du Mège wanted to provide protection for the works of art. He, thus, created the Musée du Midi de la Republique, which was housed in the convent of the Augustins in 1794. This collection, however, met with an opposition similar to that in Paris, and Du Mège's ambitious plans were only partly realized.

The French Revolution became the moment of synthesis for various developments in the appreciation and conservation of cultural heritage. Vandalism and destruction of historic monuments (concepts defined during the revolution) made a 'drastic contribution' toward a new understanding of the documentary, scientific and artistic values contained in this heritage, which so far had been closed away and forbidden to most people. Now, for the first time, ordinary citizens had the opportunity to come into contact with these unknown works of art. The lessons of the past had to be learnt from these objects in order to keep France in the leading position, even in the world of economy and sciences. Each citizen had his or her moral responsibility in this regard and was accountable to the Nation not only today but also for the future.

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