Step by Step: The Spoils of War
By Jim DeRogatis
As the armies of France marched triumphantly across Europe, they seized some of the greatest works of art in history: paintings by Rembrandt, Raphael, Correggio, Rubens, Bruegel, and Murillo; sculptures from antiquity, including Laocoön and His Sons, The Dying Gaul, the Borghese Venus, The Hermaphroditus, and The Apollo Belvedere, and much more. These they transported to the Palais du Louvre in Paris, which was opened to the people and renamed, for a time, the Musée Napoléon. Some of these works remain in the museum’s collection to this day, though the Allies reclaimed many others after the fall of the Empire.
In addition to the story in the text displayed with the diorama and featured above (gleaned from several books about the Napoleonic campaigns, including a very helpful tome about art in the Napoleonic era on loan from Joe Berton, and a modern reprint of the actual acquisitions of the Musée Napoléon during five years at the height of the Empire ), the inspiration for this box came from a visit to Paris before World Expo 2011 in Montreux, in particular the many galleries of the Louvre with glass ceilings that cast a sort of light on the art that isn’t seen in any other museum in the world.
This photo is typical of these skylights, though the varieties in the museum are endless. I decided to model a sort of holding gallery/storage room where the Emperor’s acquisitions were being stored prior to being properly displayed, following a famous parade of these works through the streets of Paris.
Since I was not modeling a specific room or gallery (which would have given me set dimensions), I decided to start with the hardest part of this project: Sculpting the statues, in particular the toughest of all, the Laocoön. Shep Paine and Joe Berton suggested that it would be enormously helpful not only to work off the photos I’d researched, but from a good three-dimensional reproduction, if I could find one. Wouldn’t you know it: A Web site specializing in esoteric garden art not only had one available in about one-fifth scale, but it was extremely faithful… and on sale! (http://www.designtoscano.com/)
With that on the workbench, it was just a matter of using the calculator to reduce it to 1/32nd scale or 54mm. I was lucky again that the old styrene Preiser “Adam” figures were just right (1/22nd for the father, 1/32nd for the sons), and I used some of those torsos, hands, and feet, plus various other heads and a whole lot of wire and Aves Apoxy Sculpt (sometimes in a 50/50 mix with Duro) to complete the sculpting. In the end, the statues were about 85-percent scratch, but having some properly scaled pieces to set some proportions was a huge help in getting the anatomy right.
The same method was followed for all of the other statues I sculpted. Below you see them in various stages of completion, displayed in front of photos of the originals.
Having carefully researched some of the most famous paintings seized from various countries by the French army, I printed them out on a color printer using specially textured “canvas” photo paper that’s available at many art stores (I got mine at Dick Blick). I augmented the printed images with a few painted highlights, and gave them all a coating of clear impasto from the art store for a bit more texture (applied subtly, trying to stay in scale). The frames are either repainted dollhouse frames from a big collection that I scored on eBay, or frames I made with a razor saw and miter box from various scale dollhouse moldings bought from a dollhouse supply Web site (http://www.miniatures.com/). Wikipedia was very useful as a source for the size of the original paintings and good color JPEGs of them, which I saved and resized to scale. This photo represents one of many tests I did to get a layout I was happy with.
Below are two shots where I’m playing with positioning; at this point, the paintings are just color print-outs on regular paper, sized to scale. Napoleon, Murat, and his ADC were stock kits with some minor conversions. Dominique Vivant Denon, who’d been with Napoleon since the Egyptian campaign and remained after Napoleon’s fall as curator of the Louvre; the Emperor’s bodyguard Roustam, and the museum workers featured some Historex parts and varying degrees of wire and Apoxy Sculpt/Duro.
Somewhere along the line, I spent a lot of time playing with using a mirror on the right wall and positioning the art and various crates to give the illusion of the gallery continuing on past the central scene in the middle of the viewing window. I was toying with an idea similar to several of Shep’s famous boxes, in particular the “pseudo box” of the WWII bomber assembly line. I finally abandoned the idea in part because the mirrors and the sight lines weren’t really working right, but more importantly because it didn’t add to the story I wanted to tell of the incredible accumulation of some of the greatest art in the Western World dwarfing the Emperor who’d seized it.
Here’s an early lighting test, with much of the art finished but not yet in its final place, and the inner scene still in the temporary foamcore box I generally construct to keep checking my site lines as the project progresses. Eventually, in addition to two LED strip lights of the sort we used to restore Shep’s Victory box, I used about a dozen other LED spotlights that I wired to add extra light on particular figures and to provide illumination from the window and the cracked-open door barely visible at the extreme front left.
Below are photos of the figures (hasty cellphone shots) at various stages during painting. I was proud of the scatchbuilt ladder, but the worker up top just didn’t look right, until Shep suggested that he be wielding a feather duster. I sculpted one based on a picture I found on the Web; it was British and Victorian, not French and First Empire, but hopefully no one noticed! The Roustam figure is positioned as a sort of inside joke for art scholars (Joe Berton was probably the only one who got it); he’s staring at the statue of the Hermaphroditus, which looks like a beautiful woman from the angle we see it, but the figure is staring at something he didn’t expect to see there!
Every time I thought I’d scratched enough different crates of varying sizes to fill out the empty spaces and tell the story of this overwhelming bounty, I’d find a hole needing just one or two more. Here are two shots of my countless tests at arranging the boxes inside this box in a manner that seemed convincingly random.
Finally, here are a few additional shots of the finished box. The first is by Bob Sarnowski of the MMSI; the rest I took at home (using my real Nikon this time, and not the cellphone!). I am proud to say the box won a silver medal in the Historical Open category at the 2012 MMSI Chicago Show.
(Last two photos above by Bob Sarnowski.)