For the ceremony of his marriage to Marie-Louise, Napoleon’s robes comprised a suit and a short cloak made of embroidered purple velvet, very similar to the “undress” robes which the Emperor wore for the consecration and coronation ceremony [the “Sacre”] of 1804. The costume also included a black velvet bonnet decorated with diamonds – one of which was the famous Regent – and white ostrich feathers. For the coronation, it was Jean-Baptiste Isabey who provided the designs for the robes, including that for the “undress” cloak executed by the tailor Chevallier and the embroiderer Picot. In 1810, one week before the marriage, Picot delivered not only the robes for the ceremony but also a second cloak, for which he requested 10,000 francs, the same amount which he had received for the 1804 cloak.
The cloak is made of purple velvet lined with white satin. It is sumptuously embroidered with gold and silver thread, and the decorative motifs include oak, bay and olive branches intertwined, vine festoons, stars and palmettes. This embroidery, almost identical to that on the coronation cloak, bears slight variations on the cuffs and collar. The 1804 cloak alternated ears of corn and bees, whilst that of 1810 added the imperial Ns. It is exactly the same ornamentation to be found on the green velvet cloak worn by Napoleon for his coronation as king of Italy, today held at the Museo Stibbert in Florence. It may be assumed that Isabey had already modified the 1804 petty cloak design for the 1805 coronation, and that this latter provided the model for the marriage robes of 1810. There are only two differences between the 1805 and 1810 models: the Italian green colour and the Italian medals (Grand Master of the Royal Order of the Iron Crown (Corona di Ferro) chosen for the ceremony in Milan. In Paris, the colour was purple and the medal was the grand plaque of the Légion d’Honneur.
On the fall of the Empire, the coronation and marriage cloaks were left to the Comte de Turenne, grand master of the Wardrobe. Napoleon bequeathed them to Joseph and to Louis. The Princesse de la Moskowa, a descendant of Joseph, gave the marriage cloak as a wedding present to the Prince Napoléon in 1949. It entered French national collections in 1979.
Karine Huguenaud (tr P.H.)
See also our fashion file on Marie-Louise’s wedding outfit.