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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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The best staircaise in all of Paris

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The best staircaise in all of Paris

The bends and curves of this amazing staircase in the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris rivals that of all of the art hanging on the walls. The narrow steps twirl around like a little girl on a summer day, or like me in every given second in Paris.  The museum is located in the house his family lived in the 9th Arr. just below the famed Montmartre and shouldn't be missed.

A French symbolist painter, he spent most of his time painting mythical and biblical figures in the early to late 1800's. In fact he did more than 8000 drawings and paintings, where more than 6000 can be seen within the four floors of his former home. Moreau created an  extensive system of label and naming every piece he created in hopes that they would all be on display together. He turned the upper floors of his house into a gallery and studio and in 1901 it was opened as a museum following his death.  

The museum is off the main tourist tracks of Paris and not as well known so you can roam the small halls and rooms on the first two floors before you arrive to the second floor and see the crown jewel, this staircase.

Musée National Gustave Moreau
14 rue de La Rochefoucauld
75009 Paris

Open everyday but Tuesday and only 5 euros

 

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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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