Pius VII

Pius VII

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Title: Pius VII.

Author : DAVID Jacques Louis (1748 - 1825)

Creation date : 1805

Date shown: 1804

Dimensions: Height 86.5 - Width 71.5

Technique and other indications: Commissioned by Bonaparte Oil on wood

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 88EE1932 / INV 3701

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Search for religious peace

After a decade of revolution, Bonaparte, who became First Consul, wanted to restore religious peace while asserting the predominance of executive power. Finally Pius VII wants to prevent the application of the Civil Code in Italy.
The tension was heightened when Napoleon pronounced, on May 17, 1809, the annexation of the remainder of the Papal States. On June 10, Pius VII strikes with excommunication those who bear the responsibility for this annexation, hence the arrest of the Pope, then deported in 1812 to Fontainebleau.

Image Analysis

This portrait represents Pius VII seated, holding in his hand a paper on which is written: " Pio VII Bonarum artium patronus . " The Pope is not quite in front, but his firm and direct gaze is directed towards the spectator. He is dressed in red velvet and wears a simple skullcap. A large, richly embroidered stole falls from her shoulders. There is a difference in finish between the highly detailed clothing and the more imprecise chair, which contributes to building the space in depth. Critics of the time admired the realism of the face and the accessories, the simplicity and quality of the workmanship (especially the hands). Some praised the colors, the design, the truth of the flesh and the draperies. In the Debate journal, noted the reduced proportions of the figure, who seemed "a little awkward in his seat", and it was claimed that David had subordinated "the interest of art to that of history".


A realistic portrait

David has a demand for immediate accuracy and this portrait is one example. It seems that he expresses the reality of his model as closely as possible in the psychological truth of the character. David has been said to be an advocate of moral strength. There is no still life, no anecdotal details in the setting: David witnesses exclusively the man, his face, the individual, hence the uniform, dull, "empty" background. This painting in no way reflects the permanent conflict between Napoleon and Pius VII, even if a strong will is visible in the eyes of the Pope. Knowing the rest of history, we can see in it the moral strength of a spiritual and temporal sovereign facing the authoritarianism of Napoleon.

  • Catholicism
  • Clergy
  • Pius VII
  • official portrait
  • realism
  • coronation of Napoleon


Louis BERGERON The Napoleonic Episode , volume I “Interior aspects” Paris, Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1972.René RÉMOND, Jacques LE GOFF History of religious France , volume III “From the very Christian king to republican secularism: 18th-19th century” Paris, Seuil, 1991.Philippe LEVILLAIN Historical Dictionary of the Papacy Paris, Fayard, 1994. Jean TULARD (dir.) Napoleon dictionary new ed. Fayard, 1999, Catalan collective. expo.From David to Delacroix Paris, Grand Palais, 1974-1975.

To cite this article

Martine GIBOUREAU, "Pius VII"

Video: Trônes en Majesté: la Sedia gestatoria du Pape Pie VII