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.
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.
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
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.