Introduction: Napoleon Bonaparte, pictured in the painting holding the crown, played a large part in this period of history. He became the first emperor of France after the French Revolution, and his decisions impacted France both positively and negatively. For example, he made decisions involving individual rights–in fact, he made a book of rules called “The Napoleonic Code” that declared equality between most people, with the exception of women. This code positively impacted everyone except women. Napoleon also had many military victories which impacted other parts of the world. In France, he is known as the “Great Reformer” because of how he shaped France the way it is today. It is important for people today to see this piece because it represents a turning point in France’s and the world’s history. If Napoleon had not become emperor, France’s government might be completely different and the world might view France in a different light.
Overview: The painting is incredibly large–20’4” by 32’1”. It has a lot of dark space at the top, mostly curtains, walls, and a few onlookers in the shadows. Towards the bottom, the painting is brighter and many people dressed in robes are standing. A woman is kneeling while a man holds a crown above her. Another man is sitting in a throne behind the man with the crown. No audience member facial expressions are particularly happy; they seem to be upset. There is a cross on the right side of the painting as well as a statue.
Parts: The facial expressions of the audience set the mood for what is going on. Most of them are giving either angry or disapproving looks towards Napoleon. The way Napoleon is standing and holding the crown while facing the crowd suggests his power. The woman, Joséphine, kneeling before him also implies that Napoleon now has a lot of power. The amount of religious paraphernalia and people in the room presents the idea that this was a religious ceremony, though it is understood that it was more of an inauguration. This hints at the idea that the church and the governments were still very involved with each other at the time. The colors used are royal velvet reds, whites, and golds, demonstrating a royal scene.
Title: The title of this painting is The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine. This shows that this scene wasn’t just the coronation of Napoleon, but his wife as well. The kneeling woman dressed in elaborate robes must be Joséphine, his wife at the time. It is known that Napoleon didn’t believe in many rights for women, so though his wife was being coronated with him, she probably didn’t gain even close to as much power as him even though she was receiving a similar title.
Interpretation: The intent of this painting was to show the scene of Napoleon and Joséphine’s coronation. Napoleon shocked everyone at his coronation when the Pope was about to crown him. He turned around, grabbed the crown, and placed it on his head. This caused the angry and disapproving facial expressions from the audience members. After he crowned himself, he crowned Joséphine as well. The Pope had been there to place the crowns on their heads, but he was not of use when Napoleon took his job. The message received is power. Napoleon seems very powerful when he crowns himself–as if he’s saying he’s more powerful than the Pope!
Context: At this time in history, France had just finished their revolution. Napoleon was there to pick up the pieces of the revolutionized country and put them back together again to give the people what they wanted as well as what he wanted. The revolution was over high taxes and new Enlightenment ideas. The people wanted change and that is what the revolution and Napoleon brought. They went from having a feudal system, a decrease in the power of the Catholic church, and social class inequality to the exact opposite. Though there were a few similarities before and after the revolution, for example, there was still no freedom of the press, there were mostly changes to the French society.
Conclusion: This painting represents the radical power move Napoleon committed while being crowned emperor of France. The facial expressions, the position the Pope is seated in, and the artist’s rendering of the moment all tie into the power Napoleon so obviously holds after coronating himself. In class, we are learning about the different revolutions, including the French revolution, and Napoleon plays a major role throughout and after the war is over. This painting shows his character and who France was being led by during their time of piecing back together.