1796 Napoleon invades Italy | ‘Fractured into mini-states except in the south, the territory of present-day Italy was once easy prey for the centralised powers, including France, which began to flex their muscles in the late 15th century. It was a French invasion that began the so-called Italian Wars in which the peninsula was mortifyingly reduced to a battlefield on which Europe’s rival powers slugged it out. Another French invasion, in 1796, put Italy at the mercy of Napoleon Bonaparte and gave rise to the practice of well-organised looting by victors of the cultural treasures of the vanquished. The first military unit tasked with seizing and exporting works of art was set up during Napoleon’s Italian campaign. Venice, Parma, Mantua, Modena and Milan were all looted by the French. The treaty in which the Papal State sued for peace stipulated that it was to hand over “A hundred pictures, busts, vases, or statues to be selected by [French experts]…also, five hundred manuscripts”. Though most of what was stolen was later repatriated, the biggest work in the Louvre, Veronese’s “The Wedding at Cana”, is the fruit of Napoleon’s depredation. But the interaction between France and Italy has not always been hostile. Napoleon III was the main external sponsor of Italy’s unification. Its leading internal protagonist was a kingdom that had straddled the Alps for centuries, taking in Savoy to the west and Piedmont to the east. The Italians had to pay a price to France for its intervention; that’s why Nizza is today the French city of Nice, and Savoy is split between two French departments. Source: ‘Charlemagne: France v Italy, a Latin love story’, The Economist August 12th 2017, p.20.