The golden legend of Napoleon

The golden legend of Napoleon

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  • Napoleon, allegory.

    MAUZAISSE Jean-Baptiste (1784 - 1844)

  • Napoleon and the Champenoise.

    DULONG Jean-Louis (1800 - 1868)

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Title: Napoleon, allegory.

Author : MAUZAISSE Jean-Baptiste (1784 - 1844)

Creation date : 1833

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 131 - Width 160

Technique and other indications: also known as "Napoleon crowned by time writes the Civil Code". Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of Malmaison Castle website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet web site

Picture reference: 96DE14721 / M.M.40.47.8401

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

To close

Title: Napoleon and the Champenoise.

Author : DULONG Jean-Louis (1800 - 1868)

Creation date : 1835

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 92 - Width 73.5

Technique and other indications: also known as "Napoleon at the farm". Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of Malmaison Castle website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Picture reference: 90CE4150 / M.M.90.8.1

Napoleon and the Champenoise.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

During the July Monarchy, an outbreak of Bonapartism arose, encouraged by Louis-Philippe's policy of national unification. This Bonapartist policy was to reach its apotheosis in December 1840 with the return of the ashes.

Image Analysis

Mauzaisse's painting

A late example of allegory, this painting exhibited at the Salon of 1833 (no.o 3130) participates in the Napoleonic cult. Absolute hero, Napoleon, dressed in his uniform as a colonel of the mounted chasseurs of the guard, is raised to heaven where Time crowns him, while he himself, proudly looking at the spectator, writes his work on the tables of history. . A large diagonal underlines this sort of apotheosis of the Emperor.

But an ambiguity remains between Mauzaisse's words and the realization of his work, very heavy, very realistic in its way of showing the event. This ambiguity can only be explained by the political and social choices of the artist.

Dulong's painting

Exhibited at the Salon of 1835, this painting was inspired by a famous song by Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857), Souvenirs of the people, which evokes the meeting of Napoleon and a young servant girl during the campaign of France in 1814. One evening, the Emperor exhausted by the combat stops in an inn of Champagne and exclaims: “God, what war ! After falling asleep by the fire, he wakes up and consoles the maid who weeps over the misfortunes of France and tells her that he is going to Paris to avenge her. These are the memories that the young girl who became a grandmother recounts to her grandchildren: “Tell us about him, grandmother! Tell us about him!… ”

A fairly weak work technically, Dulong's painting is no less interesting for the image of Napoleon it conveys. We are far from the victorious hero or the holy man here. It is an emperor close to the people, attentive to their misfortunes, whom Béranger like Dulong represent. However, religion is never far away, even in this case, and the painting looks a bit like the transcription of a Magdalen at the feet of Christ. The young Champenoise, illuminated by the fire in the fireplace, appears touched by the grace of the great man in whom she has placed all her confidence. Napoleon is therefore presented as the only one capable of saving France. This explains the luminist side of this intimate scene.


Unlike Dulong’s painting, Mauzaisse’s composition does not fit into popular culture, but within the context of official art. Its reading, to be easy, does not touch the people but the scholar, even if the message remains almost identical between the two works. Indeed, Mauzaisse shows that the Emperor is not dead, but that he survives in the timeless world of History and Time, assimilated to heaven. However, it is no longer with a god that we are dealing, but with a simple mortal, painted realistically, placed in the hereafter by means of the imagination and the memory make survive in the other. of the. Now this beyond is neither sacred nor divine, it is that of History.

To fully understand the difference in design between Dulong and Mauzaisse, you have to take a social perspective. Mauzaisse, official artist, painted for the bourgeoisie in power, for realistic traders, even materialists and atheists, who only accept Napoleon by integrating him into history. He painted an essentially intellectual work intended for a cultivated public, insensitive to a Napoleonic religion of which he was wary. If the bourgeoisie seeks through this painting to rally the people by showing them an allegorical work, a sort of apotheosis of the Emperor, this representation does not, however, in any way correspond to the expectations of the Bonapartists.

Dulong, a small secondary artist, probably close to the people and the Bonapartists, on the contrary seeks to arouse feelings by drawing inspiration from popular culture to which Béranger's songs bear witness. The painter thus speaks to the senses, to the hopes of a population left behind in the face of the prosperity of the bourgeoisie under the reign of Louis-Philippe.

  • allegory
  • bonapartism
  • Napoleonic legend
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • official portrait


N. HUBERT, Alain POUGETOUX, Castles of Malmaison and Bois-Préau. Illustrated summary catalog of paintings and drawings, Paris, RMN, 1989.

COLLECTIVE, Society of Friends of Malmaison, bulletin 1990, p. 34-37.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "The golden legend of Napoleon"


  • Salon: In the 18th century, exhibitions by members of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture were held in the Salon Carré du Louvre. The term "Salon" shall hereafter refer to all regular exhibitions organized by the Academy.

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