More than a textbook hero

(China Daily)
Updated: 2008-04-22 09:08

Napoleon et le Louvre exhibition in Beijing traces Napoleon's political, artistic and military career.

When Jacques-Louis David's oil painting, Premiere Consul Bonaparte at Mont Saint-Bernard, Alpes, on May 20, 1800, was first included in the masterpieces from Versailles at the National Art Museum of China in 2005, it generated great interest among ordinary Chinese about Napoleon Bonaparte. Before that, the French hero was just a name that embodied power and majesty and a chapter in the history textbooks.

The ongoing Napoleon et le Louvre exhibition at the Wumen Tower of Palace Museum will further enhance knowledge of this legendary figure through 100 sets of paintings, sculptures, porcelains, furniture and other items.

Running until July 3, Napoleon et le Louvre is the first cooperative venture between the Palace Museum and Louvre Museum since 2005.

The exhibits trace Napoleon's political, artistic and military career from the Consulate (1799-1804) to the First Empire (1804-14) periods. In some, he is the young and promising general in uniform, in others a scrupulous consul working late and in yet others, a majestic emperor at his coronation ceremony.

Of special attention in the first section are Napoleon's throne in the Tuileries palace and hanging over it, Francois Gerard's oil on canvas, Napoleon in Coronation Robes. Both of them are being shown outside the Louvre for the first time.

The glittering throne sitting on a red carpet was made by Percier and Fontaine. Their design, while largely adhering to tradition, incorporated a grand heraldic decoration, which was usually seen on the coats of arms of emperors, kings and senior officials. Another addition was the round chair back. The patterns of imperial eagles in its center, against the dark blue background, and golden flowers and leaves on the periphery were unique embellishments to the conventional formula.

Napoleon's indispensable role in the establishment of the Louvre shows the important role he played in politics. The Louvre was initially a castle used for the storage of royal documents and treasures. In 1798, Napoleon took charge of one of the largest-scale extensions in the museum's history. On show are several drafts and a paperboard relief of Louvre and Tuileries in 1948, which offer a glimpse into how Louvre's space was enlarged. Louvre was renamed the "Napoleon Museum" in 1803.

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