The Coronation of Napoleon


This painting by Jacques-Louis David depicts the infamous ceremony of Napoleon Bonaparte officially assuming the title of Napoleon I, Emperor of the French People. Jacques-Louis David painstakingly detailed all those in attendance at the coronation, with Napoleon’s brothers, sisters, mother, and ministers positioned throughout the scene.  

The focal point of the piece is Napoleon himself, standing at the point where all other figures in the painting face. Napoleon’s attire and regalia reflect the combination of ancient and new values that Napoleon championed; resting on Napoleon’s head is a laurel wreath akin to the civic or grass crown of the Roman Empire, the highest honors given to civilians and military officials respectively; in Napoleon’s hands is what he dubbed the “Crown of Charlemagne,” a crown that was destroyed during the French Revolution. These two pieces of regalia establish a direct link between the great conquerors and rulers of antiquity that Napoleon emulated in his conquests and rule.  

Another key detail is the posture and placement of Pope Pius VII, the figure seated directly to the right of Napoleon. Figuratively putting himself ahead of the church, Napoleon purposefully trampled on the tradition of powerful monarchs being crowned by the Pope, instead having the crown only exchanging control between himself and his wife during the coronation. Wielding only superficial and ceremonial power, Pope Pius VII can only look on and bless Napoleon’s coronation with dejected acceptance.

Associated Place(s)

Timeline of Events Associated with The Coronation of Napoleon


  • Jacques-Louis David