The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804
Average: 5 (1 vote)

More about The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804

lheard's picture


Jacques-Louis David happily sucked up to the man in charge with The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon, influenced by Rubens.

Don’t be fooled by the serene family portrait; Napoleon asked David to stretch the truth in his depiction. Sort of like having your wedding photos Photoshopped to include estranged Aunt Tabitha and edit out cousin Jamie’s mid ceremony nose-picking. No one upstages the Bonaparte family feuds, except perhaps the star titan of Saturn Devouring his Son. Familial cannibalism is hard to beat, even by shady French emperors.

As corrupt leaders do best, Napoleon rewrote history with the help of David. Too bad Jacques-Louis couldn’t help him erase those “Napoleon Complex” rumors— our power-hungry buddy stood at an above-average 5 foot 7. The artist was a fan of Bonaparte, who had given him asylum during Robespierre’s fall from grace. Supporter of the Reign of Terror? Complicit in 16,594 death sentences? Not a problem! Who cares about pesky mass execution when you paint a mean family portrait?

A notable bit of creative license is the addition of Maria Letizia Ramolino, Napoleon’s mother. Napoleon made the bratty decision to have his dear maman painted in despite her absence. Maria had deliberately spurned the coronation, upset by her son’s rocky relationship with his brothers. Lucien Bonaparte had protested his sibling’s ambitious aspirations with self-exile in Rome, and Joseph Bonaparte didn’t even get an invitation. Maybe his absence was for the best— watching an especially irksome sibling crown himself Emperor of the French would be excruciating. Luckily for Joseph, Napoleon had him painted in too! It takes a sibling to be this intrusive.

A more subtle change is in the regal young ladies standing to the left. These are Napoleon’s sisters, the princesses and Joséphine’s biggest critics. Here, they are painted with hands unoccupied. In reality Napoleon showcased his astounding tactlessness by requiring that these ladies hold Joséphine’s train during the ceremony. When they protested, Napoleon insisted, suggesting he take away their status and riches in punishment. Did Napoleon win? Not really— Joséphine tripped at a key moment in the ceremony, and many pointed to a well-timed yank on the train.

Nothing screams Napoleon like extreme arrogance, so why the focus on the Empress Joséphine? Originally, the tableau pictured Napoleon crowning not Joséphine, but himself. The emperor was pleased by this more honorable scene, fancying himself a “French knight.” Let’s not give Bonaparte too much credit for modesty— the robes he wears here are reminiscent of those worn by Roman emperors. Quite cocky for a man who’d only reign ten years.



  1. “The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804.” Louvre. Accessed June 27, 2017.
  2. “The Coronation of Napoleon.” Wikipedia. June 22, 2017. Accessed June 27, 2017.
  3. Hiskey, Daven. “Napoleon Bonaparte Having Been Short is a Myth.” Today I Found Out. March 23, 2010. Accessed June 26, 2017.
  4. “Lucien Bonaparte.” Wikipedia. May 21, 2017. Accessed June 26, 2017.
  5. Munhall, Edgar. "Portraits of Napoleon." Yale French Studies, no. 26 (1960): 3-20. doi:10.2307/2929218.
  6. “Napoleon.” Wikipedia. June 24, 2017. Accessed June 26, 2017.
  7. “Reign of Terror.” Wikipedia. June 26, 2017. Accessed June 26, 2017.
  8. Selin, Shannon. “The Bumpy Coronation of Napoleon.” Shannon Selin: Imagining the Bounds of History. Accessed June 26, 2017.

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about The Coronation of Napoleon

The Coronation of Napoleon (French: Le Sacre de Napoléon) is a painting completed in 1807 by Jacques-Louis David, the official painter of Napoleon, depicting the coronation of Napoleon I at Notre-Dame de Paris. The painting has imposing dimensions, as it is almost 10 metres (33 ft) wide by a little over 6 metres (20 ft) tall. The work is held in the Louvre in Paris.

History of the work

The work was commissioned by Napoleon orally in September 1804, and Jacques-Louis David started work on it on 21 December 1805 in the former chapel of the College of Cluny, near the Sorbonne, which served as a workshop. Assisted by his student Georges Rouget, he put the finishing touches in January 1808.

From 7 February to 21 March 1808, the work was exhibited at the Salon annual painting display in 1808, and it was presented to the Salon decennial prize competition in 1810. The painting remained the property of David until 1819, when it was transferred to the Royal Museums, where it was stored in the reserves until 1837. Then, it was installed in the Chamber Sacre of the museum of the historical Palace of Versailles on the orders of King Louis-Philippe. In 1889, the painting was transferred to the Louvre from Versailles.

David was commissioned by American entrepreneurs to paint a full size replica, in 1808, immediately after the release of the original. He began work that year, painting it from memory, but didn't finish until 1822, during his exile in Brussels. The replica was eventually returned to France in 1947, to the original's place in the Palace of Versailles.

The painting is a subject of The Public Viewing David's 'Coronation' at the Louvre', a painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly done in 1810, currently housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Coronation of Napoleon.