This stunning coronation portrait by Joseph-Joachim Guernier captures the legendary French Emperor Napoléon I in all of his grandeur. It is based on the official coronation portrait composed by François Gérard, which enjoyed such remarkable success with Napoléon that he commissioned eleven repetitions to gift to members of his family. Guernier's version captures all of the exquisite detail of Gérard's famed portrait, depicting the Emperor wearing his coronation vestments as an Imperial sovereign in a true portrait of power.
Much like the rulers of Imperial Rome, Napoléon used his official portraits to cement his right to rule and promote his new code of laws. In terms of style and grandeur, the portrait by Gérard is arguably the best Napoléon ever commissioned. The artist was an expert at conveying notions of imperial dignity and majesty, and this example of his work depicts the Emperor in his coronation vestments as a true imperial sovereign, surrounded by royal regalia and ancient imperial icons. By aligning himself with the emblems of the great ancient civilizations, Napoléon symbolically assumes a place amidst their ranks.
Laden with symbolism, the painting depicts Napoléon dressed in a gold-accented ermine and velvet robe as divinely empowered and imperial, with the laurel wreath of the Caesars on his head. In his left hand, he grasps a eagle-mounted staff, or lituus, as a token of military high command. Both his robe and the carpet are embroidered with the imperial bee, a symbol that also belonged to the first kings of France. By associating himself with these hallowed icons of the great empires of the past, Napoléon further underscores his legitimacy as imperial sovereign.
As a political statement and as a work of art, this painting truly captures Napoléon’s personality at the pinnacle of his power. Similar portraits can be found in collections around the world, including the Château de Versailles, Musée du Louvre, Rijksmuseum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Musée Napoléon at Fontainebleau.
Canvas: 21 7/8" high x 18 1/8" wide
Frame: 29 1/4" high x 26 1/4" wide
Signature: Signed and dated "J.J. Guernier. 1812." (lower left)