Napoleon on the column

Napoleon on the column

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Title: Napoleon on the column.

Author : THIBAULT ( - )

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 49.9 - Width 31.4

Technique and other indications: Signed: “J. B. THIEBAULT. sc ”(S. bd, at the top of the column, engraved)“ DE LA FABRIQUE DE LACOUR ET Ce, A NANCY ”(bd) Stenciled wood grain on laid paper HUBERT Jacques-Stanislas-Prosper dit LACOUR (editor) Nancy (place of publication)

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzisite web

Picture reference: 02CE10156 / 65.75.776 D

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: November 2004

Historical context

The bronze statue of Napoleon I, executed by Seurre, was inaugurated on July 28, 1833 at the top of the Vendôme column.

It replaced that of Chaudet deposited at the fall of the Empire. The enthusiasm for Napoleon, already excited by the Romantics, then continued to grow.

The artists seize the character [1], the peddlers spread his image. The cult of Napoleon, quasi-religious, is raging.

Image Analysis

The title of this engraving, Napoleon on the column, announces a portrait of the Emperor more than a news image. To enhance the effect, the engraver did not want to represent the Vendôme column. He left only its upper end, the base of the sculpture which was in bronze. Abandoning reality, he chose natural hues more suited to showing Napoleon I as if he were still alive (another engraving depicts the bronze-colored sculpture) and the green painted plinth seems to symbolize the hills of the battlefields.
As for the composition, it remains traditional. It is the one that was used to represent the saints in popular imagery. Attributes and hymns were replaced by warlike symbols (sword and cannonballs) and tunes from popular songs.

These peculiarities were decisive for its future commercial success with the general population. The choice of the engraver was not trivial and this souvenir portrait in fact responds to a very specific request. The Emperor, in military costume, represents both the hero-warrior and the holy martyr. Wanting him close to the people, he is credited with all the virtues: humility, greatness of soul, fatherly love, heroism.

These types of engravings, distributed everywhere, quickly took on a propagandist dimension until, when received, they turned out to be real icons (they were attached to the walls of houses alongside pious images). Idolatry and fetishism [2] were not uncommon, and the lyrics of Béranger's song featured on the print confirm this.


The honor rendered to the memory of Napoleon by the commemorative monument was one of the decisive acts of his veneration. Imperial propaganda, already implemented under the instigation of Bonaparte himself, spread en masse in the 1830s, creating an "idolatry" that is still alive today [3].
Intended for a largely illiterate population, popular engravings were able to forge the Napoleonic legend. Jean Tulard asserts: "[She] was popular before being literary" (J. Tulard, The Myth of Napoleon, Paris, 1971, p. 43.). The imagery combining text and image, it is necessary to recall the popularity of the songs [4] of Debraux and Béranger which also contributed, thanks to their rapid diffusion, to constitute the myth of Napoleon, founded on a culture at the same time visual and oral.

  • Napoleonic legend
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • Louis Philippe


Pierre BARBIER and France VERNILLATThe history of France through songsParis, Gallimard, 1958.Albert CIMOCHOWSKY (known as CIM)The Chansonnier Emile Debraux, king of the goguette1910.Fernand de SAINT-SIMONPlace VendômeParis, Vendôme, 1982. Jean TOUCHARDThe Glory of BérangerParis, Colin, 1968. Jean TULARDThe Myth of NapoleonParis, Colin, 1971.


1. Napoleon or thirty years of the history of France, play, Alexandre Dumas, 1831; Le Cinq Mai or the death of Napoleon, cantata, Hector Berlioz, 1834… Painters, engravers and sculptors multiply the representations, from anecdotes to major battles.

2. The grandmother kept the glass from which Napoleon drank as a relic. The grandson himself worships his grandmother because she met the Emperor.

3. Many places in France keep the memory of his passage through a commemorative plaque, a sign, an effigy. The great battles are recreated, the costumes imitated and the collectors numerous.

4. Songs were in vogue especially after 1821. The emphasis was on the image of the "Napoleon of the people".

To cite this article

Nathalie JANES, "Napoleon on the Column"

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