The institution of ten-year prices

The institution of ten-year prices

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Establishment of ten-year awards.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Institut de France) - Gérard Blot

Publication date: September 2009

Historical context

An aborted competition

On September 11, 1804, Napoleon decreed the institution of prizes intended to reward "the men who have most participated in the brilliance of science, letters and the arts", prizes which will be awarded "for ten years in ten years, the anniversary of 18 Brumaire ”. Their reports must then be submitted to the four classes of the Institute, and the awards ceremony is scheduled for November 9, 1810.

Image Analysis

An unminted medal

Since 1806, the sculptor François Frédéric Lemot has assisted his counterpart Antoine-Denis Chaudet as a designer for the Institute's Inscriptions and Medals Commission, which offers texts and subjects for medals to glorify the achievements of the reign. Their projects for the Metallic History of Napoleon Bonaparte (a series of medals in his glory) were rarely struck. Dominique Vivant Denon, director of the Musée Napoléon (name of the Louvre museum under the First Empire) and administrator of the arts, is in charge of the commission, but he prefers those executed under his direction at La Monnaie.

A manuscript from the secretariat of the Institute keeps the draft of each medal, in the form of a traced drawing accompanied by a descriptive text. The tracing of Lemot's drawing celebrating the institution of the ten-year awards confirms that his project has been validated by the Institute. Minerva, which symbolizes this institution, is represented there alone "seated, raising a crown with her right hand […] on her right is an altar on which are placed crowns and palms".


The Institute's intellectual opposition against Napoleon

The Institute submitted its reports to the Emperor in 1810. Napoleon shared his choices in science and technology. Lagrange must be rewarded for his work Theory of analytical functions, Laplace for his Treatise on celestial mechanics, Berthollet for its Test chemical static and his Elements of the art of dyeing, Montgolfier for the invention of the hydraulic ram, and Oberkampf for his manufacture.

In artistic matters, the choices did not meet with Napoleon's approval. Rare center of (deaf) intellectual opposition to power, the Institute is even reluctant to consider the candidacy of Genius of Christianity de Chateaubriand for a first prize despite the Emperor's express request. Napoleon also wants the first prize for historical painting for his first painter David, which the Institute refuses. The Emperor therefore defers his final decision.

Lemot is awarded for its decoration of the tympanum of the Louvre colonnade (modified under the Restoration). His design of the awards institution was chosen by Denon to serve as a model for the medals to be awarded. Chaudet’s aborted project for the Institute's medal, also proposed to commemorate the award ceremony, this time represented Napoleon handing over the trophies with, relegated to the background, a small statue of Minerva ...

  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • ten-year prices
  • Chateaubriand (François-René de)
  • Genius of Christianity


Ernest BABELON, The Historical Medals of the Reign of Napoleon the Great, Emperor and King, published under the auspices of the New York Numismatic Society, Paris, 1912.Annie JOURDAN, Napoleon. Hero, imperator, patron, Paris, Aubier, 1998.

To cite this article

Guillaume NICOUD, "The institution of ten-year prizes"

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