6.3 c 5.0 cm
Napoleon was crowned Emperor of the French on December 2nd, 1804. He had ensured that everything for his coronation was planned down to the smallest of detail but the task of implementing his plans fell on Ségur, Grand master of Ceremonies, and to Remusat, his First Chamberlain.
Percier and Fontaine, Napoleon's architects, were appointed to look after the decorations to be installed in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris and the important task of designing the costumes to be worn by Napoleon and Josephine fell to Jean Baptiste Isabey. The costumes that Isabey designed were to echo with links to the past, and the 'bee' symbol, recently discovered in the tome of Childéric and adopted by Napoleon, was on everything!
Today, sadly, only a few items have survived from these magnificent costumes. Napoleons white tunic and his shoes, one leaf from his crown and a few other items are now in museums and private collections. Unfortunately the Grand Mantles worn by both Napoleon and Josephine were destroyed soon after the fall of the Empire in 1814.
The mantles were made of crimson velvet lined with ermine and were embroidered with symbols of 'power' - laurel leaves alternating with large bouquets of sheets of bay, oak and olive branches. They were also ‘strewn’ with Napoleons new personal symbol, the bee. The construction of the Grand Mantles required the collaboration of many craftsmen. Picot was responsible for all the embroidery, Vacher was to supply the crimson silk velvet, Chevallier was to cut and tailor the garments, Gorbet was responsible for the hand braided trimming, and the 'widow Toulet,' who was paid 18,220 francs, supplied the lining of ermine from Russia.
Picot, embroiderer to the Emperor and the Empress, was working in the rue Saint-Thomas du Louvre, and was charged with creating almost all the embroideries on the 'petit' (small) and 'grand habillement' (great costume) for the coronation. For the rich borders along the grand mantles and for the bees, he receives the important sum of 15,000 francs.
After the coronation the mantles were first given into the care of the widow Toulet but they were soon removed and put on exhibition in the treasury of the cathedral of Notre Dame.
We also know, thanks to a letter from the painter David to Talleyrand that the painter borrowed the imperial mantles from Notre Dame to use as reference for his painting of the coronation, which now hangs in the Louvre.
The mantles were kept at Notre Dame until the first Bourbon Restoration in April 1814. At that time the mantles of were given by Louis XVIII to the canons of Notre Dame. The canons then decided to sell off the mantles by separating the ermine linings from the velvet, the embroidered crowns and motifs were cut out, and most of the gold bees were sold off by the weight. This bee is the only known one to have survived!
The letter discovered with the bee reads as follows:
An Ornament from the Royal Imperial robe of Napolean Bounaparte in which He was crowned Emperor of The Gauls by the Pope Pius the 7th in the Church of Notre Dame and purchased from the superiors of that church. Also the Royal Robe of the Empress Maria Louisa.
By Mr Joseph Tournier December 1814
Given to me by Mr Joseph Tournier as a testimony of His Regards
No. 7 Boulevard des Italians
December 16th 1814
‘NAPOLEON - Revolution to Empire’ 02 June - 07 October 2012 - National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
Le sacre de Napoleon Paris 1804 - Boulogne sur Mer 2011; page 43.
Napoleon - Revolution to Empire; page 161
Below is a digital model illustrating the route which Napoleon took from the Tuileries Palace to Notre Dame cathedral for the coronation, on 2 December, 1804. This model was made for the exhibition "Nelson and Napoléon" (National Maritime Museum, London, 2005) It is a Fondation Napoléon/Bath University production, made by Vaughan Hart, Peter Hicks and Joe Robson.