Historic bust at University of Saskatchewan traced to Napoleon

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have established a connection between a sculpture at the school's Museum of Antiquity and the French emperor, Napoleon.

The bronze sculpture depicts the ancient military leader Hannibal

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have found that this bronze bust depicting the ancient general, Hannibal, once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. (Anouk Lebel/Radio-Canada)

It's a sculpture fit for an emperor.

Research carried out at the University of Saskatchewan has determined that a bust of the ancient general, Hannibal, at the school's Museum of Antiquities once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.

"To me, the historical value of it is just amazing," assistant curator Helanna Miazga told CBC News on Saturday.

Last August, Miazga said she was able to confirm a previous claim about the artifact's link to Napoleon when she found mention of the piece in a memoir written by Claude François de Méneval, a secretary to the French emperor during the early 19th century.

According to Miazga, the document Méneval describes a work room at Château de Saint-Cloud, which was one of Napoleon's main seats of power. 

"Beside Napoleon's favourite green chair, on the mantelpiece, were two fine bronze busts of Hannibal and Scipio," said Miazga, adding that those military leaders were major icons to Napoleon.

According to information on the University of Saskatchewan website, the sculptor François Girardon — or one of his students — likely crafted the bust in the late 17th century.

Miazga said since this is the only known bust of Hannibal in existence from that time period.

"We are confident this is the one (Méneval) was describing in his memoir of Napoleon," she said.

Missing link

But the question remains as to exactly how the artwork arrived at the University of Saskatchewan.

Before the university received the piece as a donation in 1988, Miazga said it was sold for just $69 in 1939 at an estate auction in New York. 

The original auction book, she said, doesn't indicate that there was any knowledge of the bust's Napoleon connection.

"If we can find that link between it coming from the Saint-Cloud château to the New York auction house, I think that would really solidify the information we have," Miazga said.

Although Miazga could not publicly confirm the value of the bust, she said it is a prized jewel of the museum's collection and will stay in Saskatoon for further research and academic purposes.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.