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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 now appears in almost every French history book.

The painting was commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his coronation.

It represents more than 200 different people.

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

He also took some liberties with the truth.

For instance, he added Napoleon's mother, "Madame Mère", in the gallery - but she wasn't at the ceremony.

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

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

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

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

Fun fact : the first version of the painting actually represented Napoleon crowning himself.

However 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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