Museum of Antiquities piece busts history wide open

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Bronze sculpture of Hannibal may have belonged to Napoleon

This bronze bust of Hannibal is on display in the U of S Museum of Antinquities.

Curators at the University of Saskatchewan’s Museum of Antiquities have made the surprising discovery that the bust of Hannibal may have once sat on the mantlepiece of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Modelled on famed Roman General Hannibal Barca, the bust was recently announced to have possibly been owned by the legendary French Emperor after new evidence came into light in support of the theory. Though the museum had been interested in pursuing the idea for some time, it wasn’t until assistant curator Helanna Miazga made it her pet project that any concrete headway was made.

“This past summer in August I kind of took the project for my own… and I found in one of his secretary’s memoirs a description of Saint-Cloud Château, which was one of his main seats of power, and on the mantelpiece in his workroom there was a bronze bust of Hannibal and Scipio — who’s the roman general who defeated Hannibal and they’re both military icons of Napoleon,” Miazga said. “That was the first major clue.

“We have the only bronze bust of Hannibal that we know of. There might be one in a private collection somewhere but we have no way of knowing that.”

The bust in question has been among other pieces in the Museum of Antiquities since 1989, when it was received as a donation. While there is still further investigating to be done into the item — which is believed to have been created by either French sculptor François Girardon or his protegé Sébastian Slodtz — this new information could help to fill in holes in its history that had once proved elusive.

Miazga cited one possible avenue of research as looking “into the Scipio bust that was with Hannibal, to try to locate that one. It would be interesting to know where that one was as well, just to try and figure out who had it in the first place. The Saint-Cloud Château was sacked twice — once in 1814, right after Napoleon was done being the French emperor, and again in 1870.

I did read someone’s account of the sacking in 1814 that said that the Prussian looted the place, so it could have ended up in Prussia or anywhere with a Germanic background.”

While the current appraisal of the artifact could not be revealed due to insurance purposes, Miazga said that the bust once sold at auction for a mere $60.

Made in the 17th century, the bust veers toward the end of the timeline covered by the museum. Miazga referred to the item as among the collection’s “prized jewels” and listed other such items as including a collection of original coins and a selection of ancient glass dated to the 13th century Before Common Era — over 2,000 years old.

Miazga is particularly excited by the enthusiastic response to the revelation, and believes that associating the bust with a name as commonly known as Napoleon has helped to generate a buzz among the community.

“It’s great for the museum, the attention he’s been getting,” Miazga said. “Lots of people have been calling it the Napoleon bust, but it’s a bust of Hannibal. It’s just showing how people are connecting with Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Revolution and more modern history than anything that’s ancient.”

While Miazga is proud of the work that’s been done on the Hannibal bust, she hopes that the spotlight it’s put on the Museum of Antiquities will inspire academics and members of the greater community to seek it out as a partner in their research.

“We’re here. Come and do research. We have all the information that you need,” Miazga said. “We can help you do research. Even academics — professors that are interested in French art — just come over.”

Visitors can see the Hannibal bust for themselves during the Museum of Antiquities regular operating hours: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and 12 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Photo: Jeff Glasel