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The Regalia of le Sacre de Napoleon

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The Regalia of le Sacre de Napoleon

Not exactly hidden, but away from the key moments within Jacques-Louis David’s monumental tableaux “The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804” are a few pieces you can find today.  The royal regalia used on this day and depicted in this painting include the Crown of Charlemagne, Scepter of Charles V and the Sword of Charlemagne all of which can be seen in the Musée du Louvre.  It’s the living breathing pieces of history that are my very favorite parts of Paris. to unwrap and explore.

The Crown of Charlemagne was the name given to the coronation crown of the Kings of France dating back to 1237. Named for the great medieval King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne was first used to crown his grandson, Charles the Bald. A simple band topped with fleur-de-lis was added onto over time with jewels and velvet cap.  A matching open worked crown was made for the coronation of the queens, but only one would survive the 1590 Siege of Paris. The surviving crown would be used all the way until the last King of France was crowned in Reims, Louis XVI.  The crown would then be destroyed during the French Revolution, never to be seen again.

When it was time for Napoleon to take his throne of power over France he of course needed a crown. Martin-Guillaume Biennais was given the task. Using drawings from the 15th C of Charlemagne and a bust Napoleon had once seen in Aix-la-Chapelle showing the Emperor topped with a crown covered with cameos and carnelian jewels the design was born.  Eight cameo covered arches attached to a band, come together at the top and are met with a gold cross. In the painting the crown can be faintly seen on the left in the hands of le marechal Kellerman. (seen between the two men in the dark hats) At the actual event, Napoleon, being Napoleon picked up the crown and placed it on his head over his laurel wreath, crowning himself Emperor of France

.The scepter of Charles V dates back to the 14th century and is one the few remaining pieces left of the medieval French reliquary. Created for the coronation of the son of Charles V in 1380, it would then be used by every ruling sovereign up until the very last, Charles X in 1825.  Sitting on a lily, that was originally enameled white, is Charlemagne on a throne. In his left hand, he holds an orb that represents the world, topped with a cross. In the large painting, David depicted the scepter in the hands of Le marechal Perignon just to the right above the Crown of Charlemagne.

Both the crown and the scepter can be seen today in the Musee du Louvre, in the Richelieu Wing on the 1st floor in salle 504, it’s rarely crowded and something you must see.

In the Notre Dame de Paris, the site of this monumental event sits in the chevet behind the choir in the Chapel of Saint George a mostly unnoticed set of candlesticks and a crucifix.  At the time the cathedral was falling into disrepair and needed a lot of work to be ready for the coronation. Tapestries with the eagles, the royal bees, crowns, laurel wreaths and N’s were hung to cover the pillars that were falling apart. Galleries and raised seating was built to hold the royal onlookers and even a new altar would be built.

In addition, placed on the new altar would be a set of large candlesticks and a crucifix brought from the Arras Cathedral. Today in the Chapel of Saint George against the stained glass windows depicting the life of Saint Stephen those same candlesticks can be seen.  Jacques-Louis David did an amazing job representing them in his large piece that would commemorate the day. The altar they sit upon is a recreation in 1976 of the one that was in the cathedral at that time of le sacre de Napoleon.

There are countless more amazing things to notice in this painting, the true moments of that historic day and some that were added in to alter is along the way. I hope the day never comes that I actually learn every one of those small elements that make this one of my favorites works of art.

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Le Sacre de Napoleon

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Le Sacre de Napoleon

On December 2nd a very very long time ago, 214 years to be exact Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Napoleon wanting to set his own rules and traditions and not wanting to "descend from anyone" he bucked the old ways of  French rulers being crowned in the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims and set his sites on the historic cathedral in the birthplace of Paris on the Ile de la Cite. Napoleon was so adamant to have Pope Pius VII in attendance but as the ceremony started he grasped the crown out of the Papal hands and placed it on his own head. 

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Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantes was in attendance on this historical day and had kept very detailed diaries. Later when she became the lover of the Honore de Balzac, lucky for us,  he convinced her to complete and publish her 18 volume memoirs. She had said " But just as the Pope was about to take the crown, called the crown of Charlemagne, from the altar, Napoleon seized it and placed it on his own head! At that moment he was really handsome, and his countenance was lighted up with an expression of which no words can convey an idea. "

It was now Josephine's turn, the great love and first wife of Napoleon and the devoted subject to his hundreds of love letters. She ascended to the throne, with his sisters reluctantly behind her. Junot stated  "One of the chief beauties of the Empress Josephine was not merely her fine figure, but the elegant turn of her neck, and the way in which she carried her head ; indeed, her deportment, altogether, was conspicuous for dignity and grace. I have had the honor of being presented to many real princesses, but I never saw one who, to my eyes, presented so perfect a personification of elegance and majesty." Josephine clasped her hands, lowered her head as tears fell down her face and just then he placed the crown on her head, over her tiara.

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All of this is so perfectly captured in one of my favorite works of art inside the walls of the Musée du Louvre. The Coronation of Napoleon (Le Sacre de Napoléon) is the immense painting that stretches 33 feet across room 75 of the Denon wing. Jacques-Louis David was commissioned by Napoleon himself a few months before the big day. He didn't start the actual piece until a year later, with Napoleon making a few specific changes and additions to the painting that were a bit different from the actual event. The biggest being his mother, sitting in the balcony above him. She was not the biggest fan of Josephine, and she was still in Rome and refused to attend, Napoleon had her added in. The original drawing of the Pope had him sitting and looking on and the little Emperor said "I didn't bring him her to do nothing" so he was altered in the final piece to be anointing the ceremony.  Also looking down from above is the artist himself, David added himself into the balcony over the Emperor's mother. There are many other little secrets hidden in this painting, more on that tomorrow and where you can find the living pieces seen in this amazing painting

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Seeing this vast amazing work of art filled with symbolism, history and all the regal touches makes it one of the many must sees every time I am in Paris. I could never get tired of sitting on the bench so perfectly placed in front of this for an hour every time and just take in every single face and detail and every time I find something new.  As the hundreds of people walk in front, snap a selfie and walk on by to the next must see item on the list. It always makes me sad, that they truly don't SEE anything or the beauty that is in front of them.

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