The Coronation of the Emperor

I’m a self proclaimed History buff. I love world history and all the art that goes with it… although I do tend to nod off at the Greek period (sorry). I love all forms of art but I thought I might show you my favorite painting even though this tiny little picture can’t bring to life the sheer magic it invokes. It’s approximately 30 feet in length and about 20 feet in height and is housed at the Louvre in Paris, France. Now, before I ever traveled abroad, I was warned that I would need a week to see the Louvre and give it’s it fair due. As I said, alas the Greek period ( I skipped), saving me some time…Hey, I’ve seen enough Greek Goddesses here in the States to last me a while. I, of course, was going to see the Mona Lisa…like every other American tourist. I saw her and yes, she is a beauty to behold. That little mysterious smile and of course, the brilliance of Da Vinci. How could a sane person not want to see it? Truth be told, after I traveled around the grand museum, I was left breathless by The Coronation of Napoleon, and today (even with O’Keeffe) it remains my favorite to this day. Sadly, I can never remember the name and have always called it “The crowing of Josephine”. In my defence, Napoleon is depicted crowning her and he already has his laurel wreath. The story that goes hand in hand with the painting (Political Propaganda) is almost as good so I’ve naturally plagiarized it for you all to read. Hey, If the French are going to keep the painting all to themselves, the least they can do is give up the story…

l love the part about his Mother 😉  If you’re ever in Paris, make sure to see it. You’ll have to make up your own mind on the Greeks.

The Artist: Jacques-Louis DAVID – Paris, 1748 – Bruxelles, 1825

The Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon I and the Crowning of the Empress Joséphine in Notre-Dame Cathedral on December 2, 1804


© Musée du Louvre/E. Lessing

The Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon I

(a bigger picture)


It took David three years to complete this vast painting commissioned by Napoleon I to immortalize his coronation on 2 December 1804 at Notre-Dame. Specially redecorated for the occasion in neoclassical style with painted trompe-l’œil wooden paneling, the choir of the cathedral resembles a theater stage in which each actor has his place amidst the grandiose scenery. As in any work of political propaganda, there are certain notable arrangements with reality: the presence of the emperor’s mother on a throne in the center, when in fact she was absent that day, as she was angry with her son; or the idealized beauty of a slimmer, taller Napoleon and a younger Josephine, rejuvenated by the brush of a diplomatic artist, recently appointed First Painter to the Emperor. It depicts Napoleon crowning Josephine, blessed without great conviction by Pope Pius VII, seated behind the emperor, and is less provocative than the painting in which he crowns himself. Amidst the 150 portraits of spectators, his skillful lighting effects play up these central figures, lingering over the brilliance of a jewel, the richness of a fabric, or the softness of a velvet cushion. David was the precursor of modern-day photographers who immortalize celebrity events in magazines where luxury is supposed to feed the dreams of the public. Yet the most lifelike figure of them all is Talleyrand, dressed in red, on the right. He seems to be casting an ironic eye on this ostentatious display.


The Characters

1. Napoleon (1769-1821), is standing, holding sacred, similar to that of Roman emperors, others are merely passive spectators.

2. Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), is kneeling in a submissive position, as called for in the Civil Code French. She received the crown from the hands of her husband, not the pope. His robe is decorated with silk according to Cartoon by Jean-Francois Bony.

3. Maria Letizia Ramolino (1750-1836), mother of Napoleon, was placed in the stands by the painter. It occupies a place more important than the pope. Actually, she did not attend the ceremony to protest the blurring of Napoleon with his brother Lucien. Napoleon’s father, Charles Bonaparte died in 1785. Maria Letizia asked the painter to give it a place of honor. In 1808, when Napoleon discovered the canvas completed in the workshop of David, he was transported, and said his gratitude to the painter who had managed to pay tribute to posterity to the affection he was carrying a woman who shared with him the burden of his office.

4. Louis Bonaparte (1778-1846), at the beginning of the empire, he received the title of grand constable. King of Holland in 1806. He married Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of Josephine.

5. Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844), after the coronation, he received the title of imperial prince. Then he was king of Naples in 1806 and Spain in 1808.

6. The young Charles Napoleon (1802-1807), son of Louis Bonaparte and Hortense de Beauharnais.

7. The sisters of Napoleon.

8. Charles-Francois Lebrun (1739-1824), the third consul alongside Napoleon and Cambacérès. Under the First Empire, it took the place of prince-architrésorier. He holds the sceptre.

9. Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès (1753-1824), archichancelier prince of the empire. It takes the hand of justice.

10. Louis-Alexandre Berthier (1753-1815), minister of war under the Consulate. Marshal Empire in 1805. He keeps the globe surmounted by a cross.

11. Talleyrand (1754-1836), grand chamberlain since July 11, 1804.

12. Joachim Murat (1767-1815), marshal of empire, king of Naples after 1808, brother-in-law of Napoleon and husband of Caroline Bonaparte.

13. Pope Pius VII (1742-1823), was content to bless the coronation. It is surrounded by dignitaries clerics, appointed by Napoleon since the Concordat. In order not to jeopardize the new balance between Church and State, the pope accepted to attend the coronation.

14. The painter Jacques-Louis David lies in the stands.


5 Responses to “The Coronation of the Emperor”

  1. Thank you, Dear H, quite magnificent! C

  2. Fabulous, and yes, quite magnificent. The painting, and I love your homage to it and the artist. Three years?! I can believe it. (And Napolean was such a narcissist, wasn’t he, for wanting it? But thank goodness, for now this magnificence.)

    Also, the name you’ve given the painting since you can’t remember it: the *crowing* of Josephine? (Cockadoodledoo!) 8)

  3. The crowing of Josephine…hell, I almost fell off my damn chair on that one yb!
    Spectacular catch! Made my day!

  4. 8) It gave a big chuckle before bed last night.

  5. Have you seen it yourself yb?

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