Collecting an Empire: The Napoleonic Louvre and the Cabinet of Curiosities in Catherine Wilmot’s An Irish Peer on the Continent

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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This essay uses Anglo-Irish writer Catherine Wilmot's travel journal An Irish Peer on the Continent of 1801–3 to examine the relationship between collecting and empire in the Napoleonic period. Wilmot's journal shows how the Louvre museum, a collection of art objects taken from conquered countries, functions as a large-scale cabinet of curiosities that enabled Napoleon to legitimate his empire. She constructs a literary cabinet in her journal that allows her to take part in the practice of collecting and critique Napoleon's method of imperial acquisition. She further supports British collectors who use their cabinets to compete for control of the Continent and to protect Ireland from French imperialism. Her literary cabinet also critiques England's imperial collecting of her own country and repositions Irish collecting as central to Britain's success against France. Wilmot's account contributes to a wider understanding of curiosity by employing the cabinet for subversive rather than imperial ends.