I have just returned from a post-masters degree break to Ajaccio, Corsica. Before heading off on my trip of relaxation I knew next to nothing about the town apart from the fact that it was significantly warmer than London and that Napoleon Bonaparte was born there. All of my research skills had been spent on my masters dissertation and with quite literally no idea what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Musee Fesch, a museum of French and Italian art, situated amongst the Corsican palm trees.
The museum was founded by the maternal uncle of Napoleon Bonaparte I, cardinal Joseph Fesch in 1806, a sculpture of whom, stands proudly in the courtyard entrance to the museum. Fesch was only six years older than his nephew, who made him a commissary in France as well as the French ambassador to the Holy See in Rome. Through his state business, Napoleon’s uncle, a lover of luxury, amassed for himself a large number of paintings. Fesch’s time in Italy worked in his favour, as he amassed a collection of approximately 16,000 canvases, most of which were of Italian provenance, as well as work from the Dutch and Flemish schools.
Much of this collection is on display at his museum in the Palais Fesch in Ajaccio. The museum spans four stories, each addressing a different theme. The highest level displays the cardinal’s Italian collection, which includes religious works as well as narrative images from such artists as Botticelli, Titian and Veronese. On the next floor the artwork moves chronologically from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries imagery above, to works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here we see the inclusion of the first French artwork in the form of paintings by Poussin. The ground and basement levels then focus on the history of the Fesch and Bonaparte families as well as on Ajaccio and Corsica. Among the artwork here are artifacts from the cardinal’s life including his religious garments and portraits of the Bonaparte family. Also on display are large canvases of Corsican landscapes painted by artists from Ajaccio.
Fesch’s collection exudes luxury and decadence. It is the kind of museum that one would expect to see in Paris or Rome and the fact that I found it within ten minutes walking distance from the beach seems almost comical. Not only would I recommend Ajaccio for the weather, the beach and the mountains, but I would also urge you to visit for the sake of its culture. The only thing that I might say negatively about the display at the Musee Fesch is that not much is provided in terms of art historical information about the paintings besides its title and date of production. However, this does mean that the viewer spends more time looking at the paintings than staring at wall text.
If you are looking for somewhere a little less obvious for your next holiday, then I urge you to consider Ajaccio.