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La Victoire de Samothrace, Unknown, 190 BC

The Coronation of Napoleon



The Coronation of Napoleon is one of the largest paintings in the Louvre, measuring a massive 10 x 6m.

It took 2 years to complete and is now so famous that it appears in almost every French history books.

It was commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his coronation.

It represents more than 200 different people.

David sketched the most important guests while he was at the ceremony and then asked them to come pose in his studio - making miniature wax figures of them which he then transposed onto the canvas.

David also took some liberties with the truth.

He added Napoleon's mother for instance, "Madame Mère", who wasn't at the ceremony.

He sneaked himself in, as a young man in the gallery!

The painting illustrates how Napoleon both channeled and rejected symbols of the monarchy.

On the one hand he leaned into the monarchical tradition by using a crown, organising the ceremony in Notre Dame, inviting the pope....

On the other, he made the provocative gesture of crowning himself and his wife Josephine, and relegating the pope to a mere spectator.

Fun fact : the first version of the painting actually represented Napoleon crowning himself - but the gesture was judged too provocative and was later painted over!

La Joconde, de Vinci (1519)


The Raft of the Medusa

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