Portraits of the Emperor Napoleon

Portraits of the Emperor Napoleon

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  • Napoleon Ier on the imperial throne in coronation costume.

    INGRES Jean-Auguste Dominique (1780 - 1867)

  • Napoleon I in coronation costume.

    GERARD, Baron François (1770 - 1837)

  • Napoleon I Emperor of the French (1769-1821).

    LEFEVRE Robert (1755 - 1830)

To close

Title: Napoleon Ier on the imperial throne in coronation costume.

Author : INGRES Jean-Auguste Dominique (1780 - 1867)

Creation date : 1806

Date shown: 1804

Dimensions: Height 260 - Width 163

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Picture reference: 74EE1188

Napoleon Ier on the imperial throne in coronation costume.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Napoleon I in coronation costume.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Napoleon I Emperor of the French (1769-1821).

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Since the


, as he had done with his portraits representing him as First Consul during the 1803 order for Belgium (

in which Ingres had already participated for the City of Liège

), Napoleon wanted to spread his image of emperor.

In 1805,

he turned to the most prominent artists

, but the results were uneven, especially since he never posed and the painters had to have recourse to engravings or other paintings that they also had to adapt to the new profile of the Emperor, quite distinct from that of the First Consul. In addition, each artist had his own style and conception, and the ambiguities of the new regime were quickly felt between the different perceptions.

Image Analysis

The Ingres table

Holding the regalia, or hands of justice (undoubtedly appeared under Saint Louis), and scepter of Charlemagne which draw a triangle opening towards the sky, the Emperor is seated on a throne whose circular back joins the ample necklace of the Legion of Honor and forms like a halo around his head. This throne is placed on a carpet adorned with the imperial eagle with open wings, as if it were carried to the sacred world. Ingres in fact only retained from Napoleon the deified side of the providential man. It is this immateriality of the figure of the Emperor, further accentuated by the folds of the heavy red velvet coat embroidered with bees, an imperial symbol, a coat that seems to deny the whole reality of the body, that Ingres painted. Although static, the work nevertheless appears lifted into the sky by the eagle.

Close to medieval representations of Germanic rulers of the Ottonian dynasty (but the critic of the Mercure from France spoke of Dagobert!), the painting of Ingres breaks with all the traditional representations of sovereigns, since Titian and Van Dyck. The image he gives of Napoleon is that of a kind of god, a true Byzantine Christ Pantocrator, totally disembodied.

Gerard's painting

As in the previous painting, Napoleon wears for the coronation the great emperor's costume, designed by Isabey and Percier. The embroidery combines branches of olive, oak and laurel intertwined and encircling the number N of the Emperor. The long white satin dress is embroidered with gold, the collar is in lace. The imperial insignia are the work of Biennais. Napoleon, crowned with golden laurels (

a sheet is kept in Fontainebleau

) wears the large collar of the Legion of Honor and holds the scepter in his right hand. Finally, he wears the coronation sword encrusted with diamonds (the Regent appears on the shell). The hand and the globe of justice are placed on the cushion visible in the background. The throne, the platform, the crimson velvet revive the pomp of the Ancien Régime and recall, although modernized by more sober neoclassical fashion, the pageantry of the

portrait of Louis XIV by Rigaud

(Louvre Museum).

Compared to Ingres’s painting, Napoleon is real here. He is certainly solemn, in imperial attire, but, if he looks at the viewer, he does not seem to be staring at them with that strange disembodied gaze. Rather, he imposes himself on him in all his new dignity. The balance between the sacred and the real is perfectly respected by Gérard.

Lefèvre's painting

Commissioned later than the previous two, in 1811, Lefèvre's painting was intended for the legislative body. The artist paints Napoleon in a pose hardly different from that chosen by Gérard. However, as with the portrait in coronation costume, it seems that Lefèvre worked after a mannequin, which gives the sovereign a somewhat stiff attitude. As a result, the Emperor no longer possesses the noble solemnity of the portrait of Gerard. He seems a little wrapped up in his clothes, and it is ultimately the man more than the sovereign that Lefèvre has clothed in imperial symbols.

Napoleon points in an improbable direction, which makes it even more unreal. However, the painting has nothing of the immateriality intended by Ingres. On the contrary, there is something awkward about Lefèvre’s portraits which places them among the less good works of the Napoleonic era.


All these images of the Emperor are intended to inscribe Napoleon

in the tradition of the French sovereign

. However, apart from the effigy painted by Ingres, the direct realism of these portraits, especially in Gérard, reveals the autocrat behind the sovereign. This new conception of an authoritarian and efficient, even sacred, regime is entirely summed up by the presence of the Regent: this diamond which adorned the crown of Louis XV was in fact returned to France by the Dutch banker Vanlenberghem after the French government had purged the debts of the Directory.

But these portraits are especially valuable for their confrontation, which reveals the ambiguity of the new imperial regime. Each artist tends to assert his conception of Napoleon. The realism of Lefèvre is opposed to the sacred Ingres. Balance is only achieved with Gérard.

  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • official portrait
  • coronation of Napoleon
  • Charlemagne
  • Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)


Louis BERGERON, The Napoleonic Episode. Interior aspects. 1799-1815, Paris, Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1972.

Isabelle COMPIN, Anne ROQUEBERT, Illustrated summary catalog of paintings in the Louvre and Orsay museums, 2 vol., Paris, RMN, 1986.

Annie JOURDAN, Napoleon, hero, imperator, patron, Paris, Aubier, 1998.

Colombe SAMOYAULT-VERLET, Jean-Pierre SAMOYAULT, Fontainebleau castle. Napoleon I Museum, Paris, RMN, 1986.

Jean TULARD (dir.), Napoleon dictionary, Paris, Fayard, 1987.

Jean TULARD (dir.), The History of Napoleon through painting, Paris, Belfond, 1991.

COLLECTIVE, From David to Delacroix: French painting from 1774 to 1830, catalog of the exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, Paris, Éditions des Musées Nationaux, 1974-1975.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "Portraits of the Emperor Napoleon"


Video: Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, David ASL


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