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Thursday, March 28, 6:30 – 8pm

Ruins of the Sans-Souci Palace in Haiti, built by Henri Christophe between 1810 and 1813

Free; reservations required

About the Event

For the 24th Annual Graduate Student Symposium on the History of Art, Gauvin Alexander Bailey, professor and Bader Chair in Southern Baroque Art at Queen's University, will deliver the keynote lecture, “The Palace of Sans-Souci in Milot, Haiti (c. 1806-1813): The Untold Story of the Potsdam of the Rainforest.”

One of the most dramatic and least-studied neoclassical buildings in the Western Hemisphere, King Henry I Christophe’s opulent palace in Haiti towers over the agricultural town of Milot. Construction began circa 1806, less than a decade after Haitian independence, under Henry I, the Americas’ first black king. This massive structure was built to demonstrate Haiti’s capacity to stand up to a world in which most global powers were still monarchies or empires.

Although a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction in the 1940s and '50s, the building has never been the subject of concentrated scholarly study. It is therefore the source of much mythmaking and speculation, having been attributed to imprisoned French workers, Prussian volunteer soldiers, renegade Napoleonic generals, and re-enslaved Africans—among others. 

Using unpublished archival sources and a photographic survey undertaken in 2017, this lecture will examine the circumstances, influences, and builders of this extraordinary monument to show its position at the nexus of a global network of cultures at the dawn of Caribbean and Latin American independence, from France, Prussia, Spain, Great Britain, to the Kingdom of Dahomey and including figures as varied as Duke Leopold of Lorraine, Toussaint Louverture, Napoléon Bonaparte, George III, and Frederick the Great.