Story of a coronation

Coronation of Napoleon and crowning of Josephine at Notre-Dame-de-Paris, 2 December 1804, by Jacques-Louis David

By Palace of Versailles

The Coronation of Napoleon and the Coronation of Josephine at Notre Dame de Paris (1802/1822) by Jacques Louis DavidPalace of Versailles

On 2 December 1804, a grandiose and unprecedented ceremony took place in Paris... the coronation of Emperor Napoleon I.

Traditionally, French kings had been crowed in Reims cathedral, but Napoleon imposed his style by organising the event at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.

This was not the only original feature of the ceremony: Pope Pious VII, sitting behind Napoleon, gave him the sacred unction and was preparing to take hold of the imperial crown when Napoleon seized it and crowned himself.

Jacques-Louis David has depicted the moment when the Emperor himself crowns his wife. Josephine de Beauharnais thus became Empress of the French.

The ceremony lasted three hours before thousands of guests. But one member of the family was conspicuous by her absence...

Maria Letizia Ramolino, Napoleon Bonaparte’s mother, is depicted next to the ladies and officers of her house, in the centre of the main box. In fact, the Lady Mother was absent from the ceremony.

On the second level of the gallery, Jacques-Louis David has painted himself, surrounded by his family, making a preliminary draft of his masterpiece.

The great ceremony of Napoleon’s coronation was also aimed at impressing neighbouring powers. The diplomatic corps consists of the ambassadors of Austria and the Ottoman empire, as well as the United States ambassador.

In the foreground, we can see the Arch-Treasurer Charles-François Lebrun holding the sceptre...

...the Arch-Chancellor Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès holding the Hand of Justice...

...then Berthier holding the imperial globe...

...the Grand Chamberlain Talleyrand, holding the basket containing the imperial cloak.

Behind them are cardinals Fesch and Pacca.

Then the officers Bernadotte, the Grand Equerry Caulaincourt and Eugène de Beauharnais.

The members of the imperial family are on the other side…

Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s elder brother.

Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger brother and father of the future Napoleon III.

The emperor’s sisters: Caroline Murat on the left is Joachim Murat’s wife. Pauline Borghèse in the pink dress is Camille Borghèse’s wife and Napoleon’s favourite sister. Elisa Bacciochi, Félix Bacciochi’s wife, is standing with her arms crossed.

Hortense de Beauharnais, wife of Louis Bonaparte, is holding the hand of the young Napoleon-Louis Bonaparte. Next to her is Julie Clary, wife of Joseph Bonaparte.

Among the group of Marshals of France, Joachim Murat is holding the cushion of the imperial crown.

An exceptional ceremony warranted an exceptional painting: this canvas, a copy of the painting conserved at the Louvre, is more than 6 metres by 9; David painted it himself between 1808 and 1822.

Credits: Story

Catherine Pégard, President of the Palace of Versailles

Laurent Salomé, Director of the national museum

Thierry Gausseron, General Administrator

Géraldine Bidault, responsible for the photographic library and digitalization of collections

Ariane de Lestrange, Communication Director

Paul Chaine, Head of digital development

Gaëlle Bertho, Digital project manager

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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