Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

The French, arriving in Venice, looted her treasures, destroyed churches and burnt records relating to old Venetian Republic, Serenissima.  All this was witnessed by Andrea Salvini, who was to live under successive occupations by the French and Austrian forces and would have, as a citizen of Venice (Venezia), loathed both nations - perhaps in equal measure.

The lions guarding the old arsenale - see Useful Links for video

Andrea Salvini was born in Venice in 1768 and died in his house there after suffering a stroke in 1819.  The works and achievements of Salvini, a talented and well-travelled naval engineer, are fully documented in Mario Marzari’s Progetti per L’Imperatore
It was Oscar Wilde who said that any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.  Sadly, this means that researching historical fiction can be a headache for any author, as it is rare for two accounts (each aspiring to genius) of events in history to agree completely. 

A model of the Rivoli with one of the 'camels' in place

The history of the construction and loss of the Rivoli, intended to be the flagship of Napoleon’s new navy, is a case in point.  Who was really responsible (Salvini or Tupinier?)  for the ship’s design, and of the design of the ‘camels’ used to take her out of the lagoon at Venice and into the waters of the Adriatic?  On the fateful maiden voyage, did Capitaine Barré set sail for Ancona, Pola or Trieste?  Was she lost due to the Dalmatian crew abandoning the ship’s guns and fleeing below decks as some accounts state, or did she put up a brave fight ( as the British claimed) and only struck her colours when her rudder became disabled?

Historical accounts generally agree on one thing: Tupinier and Salvini disliked each other.  Tupinier, in his autobiography Mon Rêve, is quite clear in stating that using the ‘camels’ to float the Rivoli was his own idea (whilst acknowledging that the Dutch had originally pioneered their use).  Yet we know (see the chapter Il Viaggio di A. Salvini in Olanda e Francia in Mario Marzari’s Progetti per L’Imperatore) that Salvini travelled extensively in Holland and France in the period 1808 – 1809, and would clearly have known all about the use of the ‘camels’ in Holland as a result.
Jean-Marguerite Tupinier (pictured left in his latter years) was, like Salvini, an outstanding naval engineer.  He was born in Cuisery in Saône-et-Loire in 1779.  The son of a judge, his early life was marred by the arrest of his father during The Terror.  As a young man studying naval engineering, he described the day when he heard of his father’s release from prison as ‘the happiest day of my life’.  According to his own accounts, he seemed to strike up a rapport with Eugène Beauharnais, whose own father had lost his head to the blade of the guillotine.  But the friendship was to be short lived, due to Napoleon’s abdication in 1814.  Despite this and other setbacks, Tupinier’s career in France progressed steadily.  Once the initial displeasure shown by the Bourbon regime to an association with Beauharnais faded, he was recalled to the Paris HQ of the Ministry of Marine as Deputy Director of Ports. 

The Ministry of Marine in Paris
Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2009

 In later life he became involved more in French politics, speaking with authority on naval issues.  His career was remarkable in that it spanned not only the Resoration but two further revolutions, the last in 1848 causing him to step down from public life.  He died, childless, in 1850.

Napoleon's triumphal arch in the Tuileries
Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2009

The Ministry of Marine in Paris stands close by the Tuileries gardens, originally the site of a factory for making roof tiles.  The famous bronze horses, looted from St Mark’s Square in Venice, once stood atop Napoleon’s triumphal arch there.  After his abdication they were replaced by replicas and the originals returned to Italy. 

Napoleon himself had a flair, perhaps genius, for writing history.  The famous painting by Jacques-Louis David (above) is a brilliant piece of Napoleonic propaganda.The painting purports to show Napoleon leading his army up and over the Alps via the St Bernard's pass into Italy.

The truth, expressed clearly in Paul Delaroche’s 1850 depiction (above), is somewhat different... Eat your heart out, Pacienza!

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You may examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide.  The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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