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Title: Reception of the Siamese ambassadors by the Emperor Napoleon III at the Palace of Fontainebleau.
Author : GEROME Jean-Léon (1824 - 1904)
Creation date : 1864
Date shown: June 27, 1861
Dimensions: Height 128 - Width 260
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage location: National Museum of the Château de Fontainebleau website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palaissite web
Picture reference: 89EE102 / MV 5004
Reception of the Siamese ambassadors by the Emperor Napoleon III at the Palace of Fontainebleau.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais
Publication date: March 2016
Napoleon III's foreign policy was exercised in many directions without any obvious link between them: the "straits" with the Crimean War, Italy with Magenta and Solferino, Algeria, the Levant and Suez, Mexico and the 'Far East. Expeditions to Annam (1858, 1859 and 1861) allow France to obtain lower Cochinchina and the protectorate over Cambodia.
In Siam (former name of Thailand) reigns since 1851 Rama IV, which gently leads his country towards modernization. Rama IV, despite everything, made it known that he wanted to send embassies to London, Paris and Rome. After various setbacks the Siamese embassy was received in Fontainebleau on June 27, 1861.
A state commission, a portrait gallery
Jean-Léon Gérôme was the leader of the style called "firefighter" by his detractors. He is a painter recognized under the Second Empire. The sovereigns call on him to immortalize a scene whose exoticism suits this painter who has already made many orientalist works.
This large-scale painting intended for the Historical Museum of Versailles commemorates an event considered to be historic, especially since it recalls the 1684 embassy to Louis XIV.
The scene takes place in the ballroom of the Palace of Fontainebleau, fitted out as the throne room especially for this reception. Napoleon III and Eugenie, seated in front of the fireplace, watch the Siamese advance, wearing pointy hats trimmed with chiseled gold and dressed in long flowing silk dresses. The Ambassador, his young son and all their retinue, in single file, drag themselves almost face down, elbowing and kneeling to move forward. The moment of the ceremony which is represented is when Napoleon III takes from the gold cup that he is offered a small box containing a letter from the King of Siam. The court of Napoleon III is present in the background, and the painting offers more than eighty portraits, some of which were made from photographs by Nadar. The detail of the uniforms is scrupulously painted. Among other things, there is a self-portrait of Gérôme, which can be recognized on the far left. The Empress, behind whom the ladies of the palace stand, wears a diadem decorated with the “Regent”. The decor is also very carefully rendered. Some of the frescoes and paneling have been hung with draperies, but some Renaissance frescoes are very recognizable. However, the glazing appears to be different from those of today.
A painting witness to an “extravagant reception” (F. Maison)
The sending in 1861 by the King of Siam of ambassadors is an act of pure pageantry which does not add anything new in relation to the treaty of 1856. Gérôme scrupulously represents all the details of a ceremony desired by the ministry of Foreign affairs respecting the tradition of Asian ceremonial. We must therefore be careful not to give it a post-colonial interpretation: Siam is then an independent country ruled by a skilful sovereign, who skilfully tackles the rival European imperialisms in order to preserve the independence of his country. Ambassadors adopt the usual posture of respect vis-à-vis a sovereign who receives them. There is no will here on the part of Napoleon III and his advisers to humiliate a people who would be considered inferior. However, the moment is immortalized for its exoticism and because it links Napoleon III, in search of legitimacy, to the monarchical tradition of the Ancien Régime.
- Napoleon III
- Second Empire
- Solferino (battle of)
- Magenta (battle of)
Jean TULARD (dir.) Dictionary of the Second Empire Paris, Fayard 1995. "Regarding the illustration of the jacket and the case of the dictionary of the Second Empire", Françoise Maison. Art in France under the Second Empire , Grand Palais, 11 May-13 August 1979, catalog RMN.RMN
To cite this article
Martine GIBOUREAU, "Napoleon III receives the Siamese ambassadors"