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Citizen Emperor - Political Ritual, Popular Sovereignty and the Coronation of Napoleon I

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In this virtual tour presented by the Louvre, the viewer gets an in-depth look at Coronation of Napoleon completed by artist Jacques-Louis David.  To begin, we get an overview of that is happening in the piece and how Napoleon is holding a crown that he is about to place on his wife’s head.  The fact that the scene takes place on a giant carpet is drawing the viewer in to make them feel invited.  Quotes by Napoleon about the artwork are presented.  The crown is the focal point of the piece.  We learn about how the details of this piece, like the curtains and the red cloaks are an important aspect and how they help make the scene in focus.  The imperial family, important dignitaries, the clergy, ambassadors, and friends and relations of the artist are all present in the painting.  We then learn that this coronation piece was inspired by another, The Coronation of Mare de Medicis by Peter Paul Rubens.  The viewer learns that one of David’s main objects in this piece was to make the people and objects as realistic as possible.  People that were invited to a private showing were able to recognize certain people in the painting due to the realism David was able to portray. We also learn how Napoleon’s wife, Josephine paid very close attention to her outfit for the ceremony.  Both Josephine and Napoleon’s outfits were discussed in detail as well.  The Pope is the brightest lit figure of the painting.  Where the family members of Napoleon and Josephine are also pointed out in the tour.  We then learn about the royal regalia were required to be at the coronation and are each then pointed out. Three objects of Charlemagne are pointed out in the back left, while three objects of regalia of Napoleon are shown in the bottom right.  David was appointed as first painter to Napoleon, however had more failures than he did successful works.  The viewer is able to see an original sketch by David and is then shown where he and his family are located in the painting.  It was one painting of four for a set for the festivities surrounding the coronation, focusing on religion, the nation, the army, and the people.  To conclude the tour, we learn that this painting was not accurate because the emperor’s mother did not actually attend the ceremony.  

The main element of fiction in this painting is that Napoleon’s mother was not actually there at the coronation.  David, however, painted her in a prominent place to give the illusion that she was there.  The Pope in the painting is made to stand out and be bright, giving the illusion that Napoleon and the Pope are on good terms, however that was not the case.  Political leaders always want to make their cause or themselves stand out and look good.  Many French people were unhappy with Napoleon; however, this painting makes it look like a joyous ceremony.  Philip Dwyer writes that historians “all seem to agree on its spectacular lack of success, and they usually cite the tepid acclamations of the crowd as proof” (53).  The coronation not being successful is something that is not able to be seen in this painting like historians believe. Artists fabricate events to give the illusion of something that did not happen.  It still happens today with the capabilities people, not just artists have with Photoshop.  Anything is able to be portrayed to push a specific agenda.  It happens constantly today, which proves that not everything we see can be trusted.  Fake news is a major topic of discussion in today’s world and unfortunately it is common.  Many people are so quick to bring others down or gossip about something because they do not want others to like that specific person.  We really have to lean in on God and do research when we see and read about certain topics to be able to know if something is truthful.  We cannot believe everything that we see, which clearly was the case back in the 1800s as well.

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