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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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Mucha at the Musée du Luxembourg

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Mucha at the Musée du Luxembourg

Czech artist Alphone Mucha moved to Paris in 1888, but it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time in 1894 that would change his life.  The great French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt wanted a new poster for her hit play Gismonda. On the night of 26 December, St Stephen's Day she made a call to her publisher Lemercier, and asked for a new poster to be created and ready by 1 January. Mucha happened to be in the office that day and was familiar with the actress as he had illustrated her when she performed as Cleopatra. He created a poster that was more than life size, towering to over 6.5 feet tall and was in muted pastel colors and depicting her as a Byzantine noblewoman, with  a headdress of orchids and an arch halo behind her to highlight her face. The curves and use of flowers was reminiscent of the Art Nouveau movement taking root at the time and what he will be remembered for to this day.  The poster was so popular it was being cut down and stolen at night, Bernhardt was so impressed she signed him to a 5 year exclusive contract.

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He would go on  to produce posters for her plays depicting her as Hamlet, Lorenzo de Medici and her staring roll in Alexandre Dumas' La Dame aux Camelias among many others all in the  Art Nouveau theme. Their continued partnership would make him just as famous as the greatest French stage actress of the time.

With his new found fame he began creating a series of decorative panels focusing on the heavy themes of Art Nouveau, his two or four panels always focused on one central image of a woman.  The Arts in 1898, depicting Dance, Painting, Poetry and Music. The Flowers in 1898; Rose, Carnation, Iris and Lily. The Times of the Day in 1899; Morning Awakening, Brightness of the Day, Evening Contemplation and Night's Rest.The Precious Stones in 1900; Topaz, Ruby, Amethyst and Emerald. And the amazing collection of The Seasons created in 1896; Spring with her innocence and blossoms, sultry Summer dangling her feet in the water, Autumn surrounded by the grapes of harvest and frosty Winter hiding behind the snow covered branches.

In 1896 he began creating posters for commercial purposes for well know brands such as Job cigarette papers, Savon Notre Dame, Champagne Ruinart  and Moet et Chandon. His partnership with Moet et Chandon would result in many pieces ranging from menus to postcards.

Mucha's use of jewelry in his posters caught the eye of the son of the French jeweler Alphonse Fouquet. Georges Fouquet was looking to make his mark under the shadow of his father. Fouquet and Mucha collaborated for the 1900 Paris International Exhibition with pieces inspired by his art. The decorated chain with pendants made with pearls, semi-precious stones, gold, enamel and mother-of-pearl are heavily influenced by his Moet et Chandon Grand Cremant Imperial poster. Through their partnership Mucha was asked to design Fouquet's new boutique, both the interior and exterior. His goal was to create a space that was just as much a piece of art as the pieces Fouquet was selling. In 1923 Fouquet remodeled his store, but he had Mucha's monumental works carefully removed and stored in a warehouse, until the 1980's when it was installed in the museum of Paris, the Musee Carnavalet.  (currently closed for renovation and set to open in late 2019, beginning of 2020)

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In 1910 he returned to his homeland with the intentions of expressing the ideals of his fellow Czech people. A new theme emerged from Mucha, one of iconography, folklore and even at times political. Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Czechs were forbidden to organize and had to come up with other outlets to get out their message. Sokol is the Czech word for falcon, and used as the emblem to hold national sporting events for gymnastics. In truth at its root it was to unite the youth of the country. The 6th Sokol Festival poster is heavy with symbols, the red cloak being a Sokol color and epitome of Prague, her staff holds the emblem of Praque and her crown the ramparts. In 1925 the 8th Sokol Festival poster was now after the republic of Czechoslovakia was formed now shows one of celebration and exudes an outright a national pride. Mucha would die in 1939 in Prague, having never returned to Paris

The Mucha exhibit at the Musee du Luxembourg is amazing, and there is much more than I even mentioned here. Running until 27 January, 2019 and open every day of the week from 10:30am - 7pm, but grab your tickets online before you go to beat the line. It being a smaller museum they control closely how many people are in at one time, which makes it nice for you as a museum goer.  You can also download the audioguide before you go, which I highly recommend only a few dollars on  Apple or Google play, less expensive then the audio guide and exactly the same, available in French, English, Spanish and Dutch

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Le Baiser

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Le Baiser

On this day, 12 June, 1950 Life magazine published what would become one of the  iconic photos of Paris. Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville, (The Kiss by the Hotel de ville) by Robert Doisneau. Taken in front of the Hôtel de Ville in the 4th arrondissement of Paris just over the Pont d'Arcole which will also take you right in front of the Notre Dame de Paris. 

I love this photo, but more for what is around the couple then the couple themselves. The essence of Paris comes so clearly across in this piece.   The people walking by without even a glance toward the couple in a close embrace is what is so very Parisian. It is not uncommon to see this exact scene on one of the many picturesque bridges, in front of the Eiffel Tower or on a sidewalk terrace, it's as common to see as a Frenchman walking down the street with a baguette.

It's the romance of Paris that oozes out of everything that is so easy to be whisked away into, and there is nothing wrong with that at all.  But back to this photo and where I will squash your romantic dreams of what looks like such a candid moment. By 1950 Robert Doiseneu had been documenting the streets of Paris for a few years after working for Vogue as a fashion photographer. He found his inspiration in the everyday life of Parisians and it was on one of these days he saw a couple kissing.  For more than 40 years it was a great mystery who the young couple were, but in 1992 they were revealed.  Jacques Carteaud and Françoise Bornet were dating and walking through Paris kissing away when Doisneau caught a glimpse of them. In 2005 Françoise said that, "He told us we were charming, and asked if we could kiss again for the camera. We didn't mind. We were used to kissing. We were doing it all the time then, it was delicious. Monsieur Doisneau was adorable, very low key, very relaxed."

So he took them to a few famous spots in Paris to recreate their kiss, but it was in front of the Hôtel de Ville that they struck gold and the iconic photo was created.   When you are in Paris, go to this same spot and at the café across the square stand across from the "C" and kiss away and you can make your own version. I can promise you it's not hard to be swept away in the romance of Paris and you too can find out exactly why they call them French Kisses. 

 

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Serge, Bardot and a Birkin Bag

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Serge, Bardot and a Birkin Bag

The amazing French singer & actor Serge Gainsbourg passed away on March 2, 1991 at 62 years old, one month before his birthday. Born and raised in Paris most of his life, but spent the period of the German occupation of Paris with his family in the town of Limoges. The Ginsburg family were considered  yellow star Jews, they obtained fake papers and were able to safely get out of Paris into the Zone libre, the free zone. The war years effected him greatly and he had a hard time ever getting past what he would learn during that time.

His musical career and his love life, both of which intertwine at times have been talked about as much as his music. Serge dated the French bombshell Brigett Bardot for one very hot and steamy year, I am just guessing that but come on, Bardot! They recorded a few songs together including Bonnie and Clyde and Bardot was his first partner on the controversial song. Je t'aime...moi non plus.  The broke up before it could be released, so he enlisted his new partner Jane Birkin. The song made waves with its naughty lyrics and the sounds of what resembles a female orgasm throughout the song and in 1969 it was blocked in many countries from even being played, France even edited for the airwaves. Even the Pope weighed in calling the song "offensive", but the song was a top 10 hit across the world.

Largely remembered for his song, Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, which was about a Metro ticket taker, to this day people leave their Metro tickets on his grave. Buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in a pretty humble grave lays Serge along with his parents. There is no statue or monument, just a sheet of marble with his name on it in gold. Potted plants. notes and hundreds of metro tickets cover his gravesite.

On a small side street in the 7th arrondissement just a few blocks from the Seine is, 5 bis Rue de Verneuil. the final address and home he lived in from the mid 60's on. His daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, had plans to turn his house into a museum but has left it the same exact way it was the last day he was alive. The wall outside has become an ever changing shrine to him from his fans. From time to time they paint over it to appease the neighbors, only to have his faithful back with stencils and spray paint. 

On my first trip to Paris this was a must see stop, of course I love Serge and his music and made sure on this day I was listening to him as I walked my way through the 7eme until I came upon the colorful wall. Covered with love notes to him, stenciled images of him or just some random tagging it is pretty amazing in all it's chaos. I can't wait to see what it looks like in 41 days.

Another fun fact about Serge is that his partner Jane Birkin was THAT Birkin. She used a large opened straw bag as her purse and on a flight from Paris to London she happen to be sitting next to the Hermès head honcho. Her bag spilled out and she expressed how hard it had been for her to find the perfect leather bag. He then created a bag for her, today it is known as a Birkin Bag. A handbag that can take years to obtain from the multi year waitlist. and most cost more than a car, a few cars at that and is quite possibly the most infamous item in fashion there is.  

 

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