Stéphane Chauvin and the Rubicon editions set out to revive the history of France from 1769 to 1879 via beautiful illustrated books. Reusing the text of a Corsican historian of the last century, Jean-Baptiste Marcaggi, a whole team of talented designers have produced a series of unpublished boards retracing episodes from the life of Napoleon until then very little covered by iconography. An original work in the great tradition of history books illustrated by Job!
Napoleon and Corsica
This work by Stéphane Chauvin, published by Editions le Rubicon, attempts to reconcile Napoleonic history and the Corsicans, or rather with the "Corsican race" to use an expression used in this work. Because if the French of the continent directly associate Napoleon with Corsica, they often ignore the setbacks that the latter had with his native island, the partisans of Paoli and a Corsica under English control having violently driven out the Bonaparte family. From an independent Corsican, Napoleon had reoriented himself towards the politics of the continent, leaving the island of beauty on the fringes of imperial history. However, the Corsican childhood of Napoleone Buenaparte, says Ribulione, remains one of the great topos of island history. And this childhood was of course treated by all the biographers of the Emperor, who sought there the origin of a fiery temperament, of this ancient spirit that the Mediterranean would carry ... Others went so far as to look for the omens of fate. dazzling of the child, by giving birth for example on a tapestry with a mythological theme… Thus, if it was only marginal in the political and military history of the First Empire, it was largely treated by the biographical genre.
The illustrated reissue of Marcaggi's work
For his work, Stéphane Chauvin reuses the work carried out by a Corsican historian Jean-Baptiste Marcaggi (1866 - 1933). Moreover, Stéphane Chauvin's work simply consists of producing an illustrated version of Jean-Baptiste Marcaggi's work. Because if Napoleon's youth is already well treated, the associated iconography is quite poor and partial. Unlike Napoleon's military career where iconography is prolific, his youth is only represented in a few engravings and drawings like those of Job. Stéphane Chauvin's big project was therefore to bring together talented artists like Philippe Munch, Christophe Simon, Philippe Werner or Philippe de Saint-Maur. These artists bring thirteen very beautiful full-page plates to the book on themes as varied as the famous snowball fight in Brienne (1784),
the birth of Napoleon (1769), his trips to his cave in 1778, his meeting with Alexandre des Mazis at the military school in Paris (1784), a horse race between Valences and Chabeuil (1785), a leave in Corsica in 1790, the altercation between Bonaparte and the royalist officers who were considering emigration to Auxonne (1791), Napoleon as lieutenant-colonel of the Corsican volunteers (1792), the riots in Ajaccio in 1792, Napoleon forced to abandon the island in 1793… But this work is also richly illustrated with various other documents: paintings, photographs, engravings, lithographs, drawings… Without forgetting here and there some sketches of the artists collaborating on the project. In the end, this very richly illustrated book falls into the category of fine books on the history of France, direct descendant of the works of Job: to offer or to offer oneself.
We note, however, that this work by a Corsican historian of the last century, on the youth of one of his island compatriots, has in tone and in the background a strong imprint of Corsican chauvinism which may surprise at first glance (and which explains perhaps this author has been “forgotten” on the continent, as is surprised in his preface by Bernard Chevallier, former director of the Malmaison Museum). Combativeness, the instinctive tendency to action, individualism, rebelliousness and the strength of patriarchy are presented as essentialist values of the "Corsican race", a term that did not shock when Marcaggi published at the beginning of the 20th century , but which is much less used since the second world war. Likewise, the account is quite conciliatory with Paoli and his willingness to leave Corsica to England (which pits him against Napoleon) is attenuated. However, nothing shocking about this, here we have an old biography, presented as such (although it is true that the age of the biography may not be explicit enough, the reader deducing it from the date of the death of the author). And even, if one suspects (perhaps wrongly) some sympathies between Corsican chauvinism and the re-publishers, it is without complex that one lets oneself be lulled by this Mediterranean atmosphere and the real literary talent of the author. .
In the end, this work must be taken for what it is in order to fully appreciate it: the reissue of a short biography of Napoleon's youth from the last century, "insular" oriented, covering the period 1769 - 1793 ( and a little before to place the Corsican context). But a reissue very richly illustrated by a multitude of documents including unpublished plates that cover episodes from the life of Napoleon until then rarely represented!
MARCAGGI J-B, Napoleon Bonaparte, A Corsican Youth, Editions le Rubicon, 2010.