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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Coronation of Napoleon” by Jacques-Louis David

"The Coronation of Napoleon" by Jacques-Louis David

“The Coronation of Napoleon” by Jacques-Louis David

“The Coronation of Napoleon” by Jacques-Louis David shows all eyes turned towards Napoleon and the crown, he is the central subject of this composition. Napoleon is standing, dressed in coronation robes similar to those of Roman emperors. The coronation of Napoleon as Emperor that took place on Sunday, December 2, 1804, was a masterful act of propaganda. This painting, which is a large imposing painting at almost 10 metres (33 ft) wide by 6 metres (20 ft) tall, was part of the propaganda effort.

Napoleon wanted to establish the legitimacy of his imperial reign and new nobility. With this objective, he designed a ceremony, unlike that of any other in the history of coronations. Napoleon’s was a ceremony created by Napoleon and held in the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris in the presence of Pope Pius VII. The Pope initially did not want to travel to Paris without an excellent religious reason. However, in order not to jeopardise the new balance between Church and State, the Pope accepted the request to attend the coronation. However, at the moment, the Pope was to crown Napoleon. The Emporer took the crown from the Pope and put it on his head. This act was seen as a public humiliation of the Pope.

Napoleon brought together various rites and customs, incorporating rituals of Carolingian tradition, the ancien régime and the French Revolution, all presented in excessive luxury. The painting depicts many of the leading figures of the time, including:

  • Empress Josephine who is kneeling in a submissive position. She received the crown from the hands of her husband, not the pope. Her robes are decorated with silk.

  • Maria Letizia Ramolino, who was the mother of Napoleon, was placed in the stands by the painter. Actually, she did not attend the ceremony to protest the friction between Napoleon and two of his brothers.

  • Joseph Bonaparte, who was Napoleon’s older brother, did not attend because of an argument with Napoleon. He was added in absence to this painting as the first figure from the left in the foreground.
  • Louis Bonaparte, who was Napoleon’s younger brother, who married the daughter of Josephine, is second from the left in the foreground.

  • Pope Pius VII is the figure seated behind Napolean. The pope was initially pictured with hands crossed on his lap, but Napoleon instructed that he be depict anointing the proceedings.

  • “Dom Raphaël de Monachis, a Greek-Egyptian monk is depicted among the clergymen, standing to the right of the Bishop, with a beard and a red hood.

  • Halet Efendi, an Ottoman ambassador, is shown with a white turban left of the tall gold candelabrum.

David finished the original version of this painting in 1807 and then painted a second version of this painting which was eventually acquired by The Palace of Versailles in 1947. David painted the copy based on the preparatory drawing he had for the original, and the two versions differ slightly.

Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825) was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. In the 1780s his history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward a classical austerity and feeling, harmonising with the moral climate of the final years of the Royal Régime.

David became an active supporter of the French Revolution and friend of Maximilien Robespierre and was effectively a dictator of the arts under the French Republic. Imprisoned after Robespierre’s fall from power, he aligned himself with yet another political regime upon his release, that of Napoleon. At this time, David developed his Empire style.

After Napoleon’s fall from Imperial power and the Bourbon revival, David exiled himself to Brussels, then in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, where he remained until his death. David had a large number of pupils, making him the most substantial influence in French art of the early 19th century, primarily academic Salon painting.

The Coronation of Napoleon

  • Title:                       Coronation of Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of Empress Josephine in Notre-Dame de Paris, December 2, 1804
  • French:                   Le Sacre de Napoléon,
  • Artist:                     Jacques-Louis David
  • Year:                       1805
  • Medium:                Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:           H: 621; W: 979  cm
  • Type:                      History Painting
  • Museum:               Louvre, Paris

Jacques-Louis David

A Tour of the Louvre’s Paintings

Reflections

  • “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” – How much history was revised in this painting?

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“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte

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Photo Credit: 1) Jacques-Louis David [Public domain]

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