The sacre or coronation of the Emperor Napoleon I
Paris, Musée du Louvre
An ambitious composition representing the coronation, which took place on 2 December, 1804, in Notre-Dame cathedral, this canvas took three years of detailed work to complete. David, who had in 1804 received the title of «Premier Peintre de l’Empereur», created a monumental group portrait in which everything conspires to push the viewer’s attention towards the central scene. It is in fact the coronation of Josephine, not that of Napoleon, which is the subject of the painting. The harmony of the composition is remarkable, with the figures set either side of the large central gold cross. The huge size of the work (six metres tall by ten metres wide) made it possible to indulge in the remarkable luxury of painting identifying features for each character – even for Madame Mère, who though absent from the ceremony nevertheless dominates the foreground of tribune! In expressing his satisfaction for the painting, Napoleon is said to have remarked: “This is not painting; you walk in this work”.
Have a look at a sketch for this work from the Collection of the Fondation Napoléon.