Overcoming the Past: An Examination of the Repatriation of Italian Painting in Post-Napoleonic Italy

Michelle Clarabut

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The purpose of this dissertation is to provide a case study that explores the art confiscations experienced by Italian States during the Napoleonic wars and culminates in a discussion on the repercussions of this experience in Italy through an in-depth analysis of the confiscations and the changes that occurred on the peninsula. This will be done in three ways; the first being an examination of the motives of the French Revolutionary government in creating the Louvre. The second part will look at the historical context, data of confiscated paintings and the issues encountered during the repatriation process on a regional level. The regions having been organized into the following types; foreign-ruled Italian states, Italian-ruled states and the Papal States. Both of these sections will then contribute to the final comparative and quantitative discussion on the larger issues and obstacles resulting from the original confiscations and later repatriation efforts. It will also touch on some of the broader ideological issues including the role of the museum within society.
Limiting the focus of the discussion to Italian states to as far south as Rome, and the type of artwork to paintings; this study aims to provide a quantitative and comparative approach to the issue of art confiscations and cultural repatriation. Observations suggest that despite diplomatic efforts to repatriate cultural treasures, only about half of the paintings were successfully returned to Italy. Furthermore, of those that were returned very few found their way back to their original locations – an issue that would affect all three regions in varying degrees. Whereas much has been done on individual states, other countries and works by specific artists, very little research has been conducted on the overall experience. Furthermore, this thesis is unique in that it takes a quantitative approach to the topic by using a database of paintings to explore the list of works with a set of criteria including artist, century and location. In doing so, this study is able to provide an accurate breakdown by region while also providing an in-depth look at the combined list of paintings that would not otherwise be available.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Pieri, Giuliana, Supervisor
  • Davis, Colin, Advisor
Award date1 Jun 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Italian history
  • Cultural history
  • repatriation
  • art history
  • Italian art
  • Napoleon
  • Napoleonic wars
  • cultural repatriation
  • Italy

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