Napoleon - An Intimate Portrait

The Coronation

On December 2, 1804, Napoléon and Joséphine were crowned Emperor and Empress of the French by Pope Pius VII in a ceremony in Notre-Dame Cathedral. One purpose of this move was to legitimize his government. He also wished to elevate himself to the same level as other European sovereigns. The title of Emperor reflected his and his nation’s esteem for the Roman Republic, as well as France’s growth in size through the wars that had created an empire across Europe. The coronation featured lavish decorative elements, elaborate fashions, and imposing architectural facades constructed within the cathedral and across Paris. To make the event as impressive as possible, Napoléon enlisted exceptional artists, including Jean-Baptiste Isabey, Jacques-Louis David, and designers Charles Percier and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine.


“Portrait of Napoléon I in Coronation Robe”
Baron François Gérard - c. 1805-10
In December 1804, Napoléon had himself crowned Emperor to create a dynasty, protect the French Republic, and place himself on a par with other European sovereigns. The lavish coronation ceremony was planned as carefully as a military campaign. Gérard’s portrait records the 35-year-old ruler’s supreme confidence. It also illustrates the symbolism of the occasion, seen in such features as the laurel crown on Napoléon’s head, reminiscent of a Roman emperor, and the elaborate necklace of eagles, the imperial emblem, adorning his chest. The Emperor gave this portrait to Talleyrand, his devious Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Historical Provenance - Valençay Castle collection
Oil on canvas. Gold frame sculpted by Ménan

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Images © Chalençon
A Traveling Exhibition from Russell Etling Company (c) 2011