Go to contents

Coronation at Notre Dame Cathedral

Posted April. 18, 2019 07:47,   

Updated April. 18, 2019 07:47


Notre Dame Cathedral, which is considered the cream of the cream of the French Gothic architecture, is a symbol of Paris and a historic place where major state events took place. Best known among them is the coronation of Emperor Napoleon that took place on December 2, 1804. Jacques-Louis David, one of the greatest painters of the 19th century and the chief court painter, recorded the historic coronation at Napoleon’s order. The painting, the second biggest in Louvre, is a grand masterpiece, nearly 10 meters wide, depicting Napoleon putting a crown on his wife Josephine in Notre Dame Cathedral. Guests are watching the scene, as Pope Pius VII sitting right behind Napoleon holds his right hand up to bless him.

Did they really do so? Of course not. The painting is a phony depiction of the coronation fabricated by the painter’s loyalty and the emperor’s arrogance. As is well known, Napoleon took the crown from the pontiff and put it on himself. Although David witnessed the blasphemy with his own eyes, he painted a scene of the emperor crowning his queen to cover up the truth and successfully highlight the splendor of the coronation ceremony. Napoleon’s mother sitting on a VIP seat in the middle and his brother standing on her left side were not even present at the actual ceremony. The queen in her 40s were depicted as a beauty in her 20s, and the short emperor as a tall and handsome man. At Napoleon’s demand, the pontiff who was depicted as holding his hands together on his knees in the original sketch was changed to hold his hand up to bless the emperor.

It took David three years to complete the painting after making changes over and over again due to the emperor’s caprice and demands. When Napoleon lost power in 1815, the painter had to leave his country. But his painting of the historic moment has been loved until today as a symbol of France. Sadly, an inferno that occurred on Monday raged through the 856-year-old cathedral, damaging its spire and roof. French President Emmanuel Macron’s address, in which he said he was “sad to be watching this part of us burn tonight,” speaks for the sense of devastation French people must have felt.

Eun-Taek Lee nabi@donga.com