Cultural Tourist: Engraved in his memory, Napoleon's coronation
Sunday 12 September 2004
For fans of Napoleon Bonaparte, this is an exciting time. Bicentenaries are occurring every week: their hero first sprang to world attention with his extraordinary conquests in northern Italy in 1796-97 and his rapid rise through military conquest, diplomacy and politics made him the commanding, unignorable figure in Europe until the final denouement at Waterloo in 1815.
This December sees the 200th anniversary of his coronation as Emperor of the French in Nôtre Dame in Paris, attended and blessed by the Pope. At this apotheosis he was 36. Just 10 years before, he had considered suicide as he felt his prospects in life were at an end; just 11 years later they really were.
It's easy to see why the story of his life and exploits still fascinate the ambitious, the self-made, the hubristic and the romantic. Events, exhibitions and conferences take place all the time throughout Europe and the best source for information is www.napoleon.org (available in English), a lively website which will send you a weekly email bulletin of the latest news.
On 28 September, the Treasures of La Fondation Napoleon, more than 200 pieces of Bonaparte memorabilia, will be on show in Paris at the Musée Jacquemart-André in the Boulevard Haussmann (www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com). The museum is worth a visit on its own account; it's one of the most sumptuous mansions in the city and home to one of the finest private art collections in the world.
From 15 October at the Musée de l'Armée at the Invalides in Paris (where Napoleon's body now rests) there will be an exhibition of the luxurious engravings of the Emperor's Coronation, commissioned by him to record the settings, scenes and costumes of the events of 4 December, 1804. All the illustrations are brilliantly highlighted with watercolour and gouache, copied from a rare coloured edition at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
Next year, of course, is the bicentenary of the battle of Trafalgar which finally put paid to Napoleon's plans for the invasion of Great Britain. Large international celebrations are planned for that, too. You can find out what has been arranged at www.seabritain2005.com.
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