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Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824)
Napoleon I in Coronation Robes
after 1804
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Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) joined the French army when he was 16, became a successful military commander and was made Emperor of the French (1804-14) when he was just 35. Significantly, he was Emperor, not King, of the French. At this time the monarchy had been swept away by the French Revolution and many aristocrats had lost their lives to the guillotine. Napoleon had led many successful campaigns in Italy and had come back a hero, making him obvious choice for a new leader. He was finally defeated by The Duke of Wellington and the Prussians at The Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Here Napoleon is being sworn in as Emperor of the French on December 2nd 1804. Holding a rigid and proud pose, he is standing to make the coronation oath. His gaze is fixed straight ahead of him and his right hand stretched above the Civil Code, the Orb and the Hands of Justice, which are symbols of rule.

Napoleon’s dress is of white silk and is extravagantly embellished in gold. His robe is made from deep red velvet, lavishly lined and embellished with ermine (a type of rodent whose fur was rare and expensive and has long been used to identify people of a high status in portraits). His lace scarf is swept aside, making us notice the large capital ‘N’ framed by a circular border of olive branches, which is hanging from the Legion of Honour. In his left hand, and creating a link to his military history, he is holding a sceptre surmounted by the imperial eagle. He is wearing a gold headdress of olive branches, the emblem of Roman Emperors. Both his robe and the carpet are embroidered with the imperial bee, a symbol that also belonged to the first Roman Emperor Charlemagne, the compassionate and much-loved King of 8th-century Western Europe. Napoleon is obviously surrounding himself with the regalia of Kings and identifying himself with ancient Roman rule and Empire.

What does this say about his ambition for his own future as ruler?

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767-1824) considered the depiction of the sitter's character the artist's primary aim. He stated that to achieve the most accurate portrayal of character, the artist must 'eliminate all traces of affectation' and be 'as direct and as simple as possible'. Has he achieved his aim in this portrait of Napoleon?

Anne-Louis and his studio produced many identical copies of Napoleon I in Imperial Robes for distribution at the several imperial courts.

What does this say about Napoleon’s aims to promote his image as ruler?
Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824)  Napoleon I in Coronation Robes   after 1804
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 179 x 251 cm
The Bowes Museum: B.M.364
Pose and Expression
Setting and Symbolism
Status and Dress
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