The Coronation of Napoleon Jacques Louis David Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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David Jacques-Louis David executed The Coronation of Napoleon in 1807. The painting has impressive dimensions as it's about 33 feet wide by approximately 20 feet tall. The painting depicts the coronation of Napoleon, which took place on 2 December 1804 at Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris. It's held in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

Details of the Painting

Napoleon is in the centre holding the crown; he's about to place a crown on Joséphine, his wife. Joséphine is kneeling on a pillow and Napoleon is wearing his coronation robe, which resembles the robes that Roman emperors were wearing. Pope Pius VII is sitting on the right side of Napoleon. He blesses the coronation; however, he's taking part involuntarily under Napoleon's pressure. Napoleon's mother is wearing a white dress and is sitting in the middle of the painting.

In the left foreground, 2 identically dressed men (Napoleon's brothers) are wearing black hats. To the right side of Napoleon’s 2 brothers are his 3 sisters who are also similarly dressed. To the right side of Napoleon's three sisters are Julie Clary, who is Joseph Bonaparte's wife, and Hortense, who is Joséphine's daughter. They are also identically dressed. In the background, David painted himself as he attended the coronation. Lastly, all the 204 faces in the painting look serious, which signifies the importance of the event.

Composition of the Painting

The composition of The Coronation of Napoleon is organised around various axes, and it incorporates neoclassicism rules. One axis is that with a vertical orientation, which is passing through the cross. A diagonal line is running from the pope in the painting to the empress. Napoleon is the middle of the composition and all eyes are turned towards him.

History of the Painting

Between 7 February and 21 March 1808, The Coronation of Napoleon was displayed at the Salon painting exhibition, which was held annually. In 1810, the work was presented to the competition called the Salon decennial prize. The work remained at David's property until 1819 when the painting was taken to the Royal Museums. It stayed in the reserves until the year 1837. King Louis-Philippe ordered the painting to be placed in the Chamber Sacre, which was the museum of the Palace of Versailles. The work was taken to the Louvre Museum in 1889.

Who commissioned the Painting?

The painting was commissioned by Napoléon Bonaparte in September 1804. On 21 December 1805, Jacques-Louis David started working on the painting in the former College of Cluny chapel located near the Sorbonne building. In January 1808, his student Georges Rouget assisted him by putting the finishing touches. In 1808 - after the original was released - American entrepreneurs commissioned David to paint a replica. David started working on it in the same year and painted the work from memory. He completed the work in 1822 while he was in exile in the Brussels-Capital Region. In 1947, the replica was returned to the Palace of Versailles in France, which was its original place.