Napoleon on His Imperial Throne

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Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Napoleon On His Imperial Throne, 1806

Looking regal as ever, Napoleon is covered from head-to-toe in abundant robes, tassels, embroidery, and furs. The portrait shows the newly self-appointed emperor on the day of his coronation, in the moment that he sat upon his throne for the first time as Emperor. He resembles Jupiter in Ingres’ Jupiter and Thetis, where both men radiate patriarchal dominance, although Napoleon is slightly more overdressed.

On his head sits a gold leaf crown, much like the one worn by Julius Caesar. At his feet lays an eagle, or rather, the French Imperial Eagle chosen by Napoleon himself as the symbol of the French Army.
  In his hands he holds the scepter of Charlemagne and the Hand of Justice.  He looks as a leader should -- powerful, stationary, firm, exquisite.  But something seems off. Napoleon does not command the respect and authority that the portrait intends him to. 

No, Napoleon looks less like a Roman god or emperor and more like a boy playing dress up. His gaunt face looks flat, bored.  The small features and stony eyes don’t quite match up to the extravagance of the rest of the painting. His expression would look more at home at a funeral than on a gilded throne.  The robes, the crown, and the lace overwhelm him. I do not see a powerful man in this picture. I see a man who just now realized what he has gotten himself into. Everything about this seems to show authority, power, and fortune, except Napoleon who seems to be thinking something along the lines of, “I have got to get out of these tassels.”

But the funny thing is, Napoleon never sat for this painting.  Ingres had been chosen, along with five other artists, to paint portraits of Napoleon to be distributed to French towns. Perhaps Napoleon felt he was above sitting for portraits, or perhaps he had bigger things to deal with. But Ingres painted him with all the finery and pizzazz any French provincial peasant could have imagined. This portrait would not exactly convey a strong sense of faith in the new emperor.

France had just experienced the horrors of Revolution and Robespierre and Napoleon was supposed to be the hero to save and secure her. This picture is a far step from military leader Napoleon, who at least looked confident enough to instill hope and faith into the French people. But this new Napoleon? Will he carry France upon his padded shoulders? Will he rule with an ornately gloved hand? Will he pave the way for a New France with his delicate silk slippers?

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