The Coronation of Napoleon (French: Le Sacre de Napoléon) is a painting completed in 1807 by Jacques-Louis David, the official painter of Napoleon. The painting has imposing dimensions, as it is almost 10 metres (33 ft) wide by a little over 6 metres (20 ft) tall. The crowning and the coronation took place at Notre-Dame de Paris, a way for Napoleon to make it clear that he was a son of the Revolution.
The work was commissioned by Napoleon orally in September 1804 and its official title is Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804. Jacques-Louis David started work on 21 December 1805 in the former chapel of the College of Cluny, near the Sorbonne, which served as a workshop. Assisted by his student Georges Rouget, he put the finishing touches in January 1808. From 7 February to 21 March 1808, the work was exhibited at the Salon annual painting display in 1810,[clarification needed] and it was presented to the decennial prize competition. The painting remained the property of David until 1819, when it was transferred to the Royal Museums, where it was stored in the reserves until 1837. Then, it was installed in the Chamber Sacre of the museum of the historical Palace of Versailles on the orders of King Louis-Philippe. In 1889, the painting was transferred to the Louvre from Versailles.
David was commissioned by American entrepreneurs to paint a full size replica, in 1808, immediately after the release of the original. He began work that year, painting it from memory, but didn't finish until 1822, during his exile in Brussels. The replica was eventually returned to France in 1947, to the original's place in the Palace of Versailles.
Sketch of emperor Napoleon crowning himself. Drawing by David, kept at the Louvre.
The composition is organised around several axes, and incorporates the rules of neoclassicism. One axis is that which passes through the cross and has a vertical orientation. All eyes are turned towards Napoleon, who is the center of the composition. A diagonal line runs from the pope to the empress.
Napoleon I (1769–1821), is standing, dressed in coronation robes similar to those of Roman emperors. Others are merely passive spectators. In the actual painting it is possible to see the outline of what was originally painted: Napoleon holding the crown above his own head, as if placing on himself.
Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763–1814), is kneeling in a submissive position, as called for in the French Civil Code. She received the crown from the hands of her husband, not the pope. Her robe is decorated with silk according to a contemporary cartoon by Jean-Francois Bony.
Maria Letizia Ramolino (1750–1836), mother of Napoleon, was placed in the stands by the painter. She occupies a place more important than the pope. Actually, she did not attend the ceremony to protest the friction of Napoleon with his brothers Lucien and Joseph. Napoleon's father, Charles Bonaparte, died in 1785. Maria Letizia asked the painter to give it a place of honour.[dubious– discuss] In 1808, when Napoleon discovered the canvas completed in the workshop of David, he was enthralled, and expressed his gratitude to the painter who had managed to convey to posterity the tribute paid to the affection he was carrying to a woman who shared with him the burden of his office.
Louis Bonaparte (1778–1846), who at the beginning of the empire received the title of grand constable, King of Holland, in 1806. He married Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of Josephine.
Joseph Bonaparte (1768–1844), who was not invited and did not attend because of an argument with Napoleon. This is why his mother did not attend either. After the coronation, he received the title of imperial prince. Then he was king of Naples in 1806 and Spain in 1808.
Pope Pius VII (1742–1823), was content to bless the coronation. He 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. The original sketches (as was typical in those days) showed the (key) subjects - including the Pope - minus their clothing, which was added in the actual painting. The pope was originally pictured with hands crossed on his lap, but Napoleon, supposedly claiming that the Pope was not present to do nothing, instructed that the painting depict him anointing the proceedings.
Halet Efendi, an Ottoman ambassador, was also present. He is shown below in the detailed picture.
Dom Raphaël de Monachis, Greek-Egyptian monk and member of the Institut d'Égypte is depicted among the clergy men, standing to the right of the Bishop, with a beard and a red hood.
The lady robe bearer in front, right behind Josephine, on the right side from the picture-viewer's point, is Elisabeth-Hélène-Pierre de Montmorency-Laval, mother of politician Sosthènes II de La Rochefoucauld. She was a court lady of Josephine.