From Napoleon’s death on 5 May 1821 on St Helena to his exhumation, including the making of the death mask, the autopsy, the exhibition of the body, the burial… the sequence of events is known minute by minute. It is as if all those who were on St Helena at the time of his death were acutely aware that they were living through a moment of history.
In December 1840, at the time of the repatriation of the Emperor’s mortal remains, the process was repeated and amplified… However, despite the abundance of memoirs, letters, sketches, relics and stories, some areas of this history lack clarity, there are still uncertainties, contradictions…
Hypotheses, theories, assertions and controversies flourish: what exactly did Napoleon die of? Did he really die on St Helena? Was someone else’s body substituted for his?
The very existence of these hypotheses – and above all their persistence – demonstrates that, from the day of his death, Napoleon no longer belonged to himself. Transfigured, he became an archetype, a constituent element of the collective unconscious.