Book Review: Napoleon, ed. Sylvain Cordier

Napoleon, Cordier

Wow! This is a terrifically beautiful book.

This edition – I wonder if others will be published, e.g. when the show gets to the Palace of Fontainebleau? – bears the imprimature of the Canadian Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Napoleon, Cordier

I had them set aside a copy for me at Topping Books, intending to go in and buy it yesterday. But worries about the cost – I’ve paid the full £40 RRP – resulted in my not going till today.

I got up earlier than I normally would, to be first at the bank, paying in some drum lesson fees (and thereby mitigating, somewhat, my feelings of guilt re the expense!), and was in Ely nice and early. A quick browse of the book at the counter, and I bought it.

Napoleon, Cordier
David’s famous and monumental coronation painting.

Now I’m poring over it at Welney WWT, with a pot of tea and a bacon bap. Must keep any bacon grease of this sumptuous and expensive thing of beauty! I’m sharing a few pictures of spreads from the book for educational purposes, in the hope that folks visiting and reading this might be inspired to buy this book, and/or visit the exhibition.

Napoleon, Cordier
Napoleon’s Grand Equerry, Caulaincourt.

Sadly for us Brits the show won’t be coming to England as far as I know. It travels via several venues across t’other side of the pond, in Canada and the U.S, before heading to France, later in 2019. I intend to visit the show when it reaches Fontainebleau!

Napoleon, Cordier
Various drawings and plans.

It’s funny, in years past my interest in all things Napoleonic was chiefly confined to the military history aspect. Mostly it’s been centred around reading, including much perusal of art and maps, etc, and all of this as a kind of adjunct to the toy soldier collection.

Napoleon, Cordier
Palatial opulence.

Now, however, I’m interested in far more: the person of Napoleon himself, and his allies and enemy’s; the art, culture, and even the general tenor of the times, and how they’ve fed into subsequent history, and so on.

Indeed, I’ve had flights of fancy wherein I fantasised about returning to higher education and studying the era in greater depth. I even had one particular dream which involved a PhD on the visual culture of the 1er Empire, the end product of which was to have been something very like this book, drawing together such diverse elements as art, architecture, design, and all that jazz.

Napoleon, Cordier
Court apparel, some pretty fly duds!

But here it is, already done, by a whole team of experts, and now in my eager and excited hands. An absolute treasure trove of beautifully photographed artefacts, ranging from designs for buildings, porcelain, tapestries, uniforms, and suchlike, to the things themselves. And ranging from small metal baubles to chairs, furniture, carriages, all the way up to palaces.

Napoleon, Cordier
Potty about Sevres!

Subtitled The Imperial Household, the chapters are broken down thus:

I. The Imperial Household: Portraits

II. The Household & Its Palaces

III. Art & Majesty

IV. Serving The Imperial Family

V. Epilogue


Within these there are numerous sub-sections, sometimes on a particular theme, individual, or area of production. So for example we have entries on Denon, Sevres, Gobelins, the Empress and her Household, the Imperial Hunt, and so on.

The richness and splendour that is a central theme throughout really is quite overpowering. No doubt just as was intended. There’s also a very interesting juxtaposition on one page of four portraits, in which the contrast between Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon is really very striking.

Napoleon, Cordier
Compare Franklin and Boney!

Having recently been reading Inside The Third Reich, by Albert Speer, it’s interesting to compare the longevity of both these fairly recent irruptions of Imperial ambition. Napoleon certainly was, like Hitler, a despot. But it would seem he was a far more enlightened one, for all that. And in light of that, perhaps it’s not surprising that his Imperial legacy has fared far better, vast amounts of his bequest to history surviving in numerous areas, from bricks and mortar to the Code Napoleon.

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