It was a strange spectacle that began like a lightning flash on the horizon and lasted only fifteen years, but changed the face of the old continent forever.
A Corsican buccaneer conquered the once most powerful throne of the Occident and swept like a storm through the lands of the ancient monarchies, crowning a new ruler here, overriding old birthrights there, or simply conquering unwilling lands.
As a young man, Napoleon Bonaparte took Lombardy from the Habsburgs and declared Milan the capital of the Cisalpine Republic and therefore a part of the French Republic.
The country was briefly to be lost again in the “Second Coalition War”, but Napoleon completely regained Italy with his victory at Marengo.
When he gave a ball to celebrate the re-conquest of Milan, he told his Italian guests that so many works of art had been stolen in the meantime.
He said in Italian: “Glie italiani sono tutti ladroni” (“All Italians are thieves”).
Countess Caracciolo pointedly remarked: “Not everyone, Your Excellency, ma buona parte” (“only a good part”).