The Distribution of the Eagle Standards
The Distribution of the Eagle Standards is an 1810 painting by Jacques-Louis David depicting a ceremony arranged by Napoleon after his assumption of power as emperor. In it he sought to revive the military ethos of the Roman empire. However, the ceremony, and the painting that commemorated it, also provided an important model for the use of the Roman salute and its revival at public ceremonies organised by fascists and the Nazis during the 20th century.
The event took place on December 5, 1804, three days after his coronation. Napoleon distributed "eagles" based on the Roman aquila of the legions of Rome. The standards represented the regiments raised by the various Departments of France, and were intended to institute feelings of pride and loyalty among the troops who would be the backbone of Napoleon's new regime. Napoleon gave an emotional speech in which he insisted that troops should defend the standards with their lives.
In early sketches of the painting David included a winged figure of Nike, the goddess of victory, floating over the troops, but Napoleon objected to such an unrealistic feature. He also insisted that his wife Josephine be removed from the composition. He was preparing to divorce her, since she had failed to provide his heir.
The final painting depicted the moment when Napoleon blessed the standards being held out towards him. Napoleon has his arm raised in imitation of ancient "adlocutio" scenes, which depict Classical heroes addressing troops. David's composition was heavily influenced by the friezes on Trajan's column.
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