Napoleon the Great, in his Coronation Robes
Napoleon is singularly depicted in this image. He is standing on a platform in front of his throne carrying a scepter. He is wearing a blue robe with a purple, fur-trimmed cape. Upon his head is a crown of laurels. His throne is also blue with golden embellishment including a large “N” in its center. To his right is a red pedestal topped with a pillow. On top of the pillow is what appears to be a Roman Catholic incense holder and another scepter. The backdrop of the image consists of a red curtain.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Napoleon in his Imperial Robes
CA 8939 v.3
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The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte volume III (1828) by William Henry Ireland (1777-1835)
Parisian police uncovered an assassination plot, led by Napoleon’s fellow military leader, Jean-Victor Moreau. Napoleon used this plot to justify the installation of a monarchy, with himself as the head, in France (S. Englund, Napoleon: A Political Life 238-239).
Pope Pius VII presided over Napoleon's coronation. In French tradition, coronations were enacted and made official through the Church's ceremony of anointment. Monarchs were considered, “The eldest sons of the Church” (S. Englund, Napoleon: A Political Life 243). However, Napoleon insisted that Pope Pius VII only watch (S. Englund, Napoleon: A Political Life 243). Although other Roman leaders of the time staunchly opposed the Pope’s decision to coronate Napoleon, he chose to do so out of admiration for the young leader. Pope Pius VII also insisted Josephine and Napoleon have a religious marriage ceremony, as they had yet to do so.
The coronation itself took place at Notre Dame in Paris. The coronation was formally and spatially divided between the religious and the secular. The religious portion, the benediction of the pope, was held at one end of the cathedral, and the secular portion, the taking of the oath, was held at the other (S. Englund, Napoleon: A Political Life 245).
This print copied the original painting of François Gerard. After Napoleon was crowned emperor, he commissioned several painters, including Gerard, to eternalize the event in art. Because Cruikshank chose Gerard's print as inspiration, the likelihood of a glorified depiction was solidified, for commissioned portraiture could never show a conspicuous negative portrayal (R. Asprey, Rise and Fall 280).
This image depicts Napoleon posing majestically as the newly crowned Emperor of France.
Because Napoleon was not born into his position, it is a decided effort of the engraver to depict him with luxurious items. The items are elaborate and ornate and indicate his wealth. At the time, wealth was directly correlated with power, so the items further indicate his supremacy. Lastly, his crown is not made of gold, but of laurels; this is probably a reference to the ancient Greek tradition of granting a victor a crown of laurels.
The crowning of Napoleon as emperor of France was of great historical significance to the Romantics. Although the Romantics championed the French Revolution and supported Napoleon’s installation as consul, they were staunchly against the Napoleonic Wars. Romantic leaders such as Percy Bysshe Shelly thought that the French Revolution failed because of its reliance on violence (L. Egendorf, Romanticism 19). Additionally, Napoleon’s crowning occurred only a year after Britain declared war on France. “The attention of the public during the first fifteen years of the century was mainly directed to the progress and fortunes of the great national enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte. The hatred with which he was regarded in this country can scarcely be appreciated in these days” (G. Claeys, French Revolution 43).
The artist of a portrait is intended to “give us, with his utmost effort, the character of the man he is painting, not what other people think the man to be” (C.R. Ashbee, Caricature 143). Despite this intention, Cruikshank copies a biased painting; as a result, the portrait functions as Napoleonic propaganda.
Ashbee, C.R. Caricature. London: Chapman and Hall Ltd., 1928.
Asprey, Robert. The Rise and Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
Claeys, Gregory. The French Revolution Debate in Britain: The Origin of Modern Politics. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.
Egendorf, Laura. English Romanticism. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press Inc., 2001.
1 leaf, 260 p. : col. plates. ; 25 cm.