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History vs. Napoleon Bonaparte - Alex Gendler

According to Daniel Roche, some 25, people had been employed in the textile and fashion industries during the eighteenth century. Napoleon reinstated traditional protectionist economic policies, banning the importation of Indian muslin during the Consulate and decreeing in that silk manufactured in France was mandatory for court costumes Le satin est ordinairement blanc, vigogne ou rose. Josephine owned hundreds of dresses in coloured silks, satins and velvets She remained partial to white for her court costumes, however, often wearing a matching white train, which sustained the association of female court costume with la mode , particulary as pictured.

Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, 1769-1821 -- Elba and the Hundred Days, 1814-1815

She was almost invariably portrayed wearing white in both formal and informal portraits. When Josephine wore a coloured train, the general effect was to accentuate the white column of the dress The mantles designed for the Napoleonic coronation revived and redefined the mantle of the Bourbon court. It dominates the entire foreground of the painting, curling and piling up beneath the seated empress and unfolding across the front edge until it is cropped by the corner, as if there were more to it than the painting could contain fig.

This image of excess corresponds to surviving bills for the garment. The mantle required twenty-two metres of velvet, at a cost of francs, with the ermine lining and embroidered border costing twenty times that much at Jean-Louis-Charles Pauquet also portrayed Josephine seated in her imperial robes in an engraving after a drawing by Isabey published on the day of the coronation fig. These historical borrowings were designed to give the ceremonial garb a gloss of longstanding legitimacy. While previous regimes had blended old and new, the Napoleonic costumes and coronation ceremonies did this in a highly strategic way.

Coming in the wake of the Revolution, and centered on a Corsican parvenu, the invention of symbolism for the sacre was an anxiously controlled and politically freighted affair. The resulting bricolage of historical elements is especially noticeable because the costumes and symbolism of the Napoleonic court were invented from scratch. The sleeve perpetuated and modified the fashionable mitten- and balloon-sleeves of the s by changing the fabric and introducing trimmings that brought out historical associations.

As represented in several paintings, the puff sleeve was cut on the bias and softly gathered to form diagonal ridges that were studded with rows of diamonds along the raised edges and embroidered with rows of golden leaves in the sunken furrows. The design and colouristic affect of this embroidery evoked the slashing and layering of Renaissance styles. The coronation dress strengthened such historical associations in replacing fine muslin with a dense, buttery satin that could physically support the heavy embroidery and precious stones. Sheathing the arms and much of the hands with solid knuckle-length sleeves connoted feminine modesty in the moral domain of the body, and in this regard marked a departure from the provocative allure of the sleeveless chemise dresses and diaphanous muslin sleeves of the previous decade.

This echoed the poses of female donor figures depicted in the illuminated medieval manuscripts and Renaissance paintings studied by David in preparation for this painting An illustrated catalogue of the tapestry was produced on this occasion and four hundred copies of it were given to Generals Davout and Soult for distribution to the army which was then massed at Boulogne , as a form of historical propaganda intended to inspire and prepare the men for the invasion.

This was one of several politically opportunistic associations of Napoleon with William the Conqueror The invocation of Queen Matilda represented their feminine counterpart, one that reinforced the traditional, deeply gendered association of women with needlework. She became a feminine symbol for a modern style of embroidery that lost most of its specific political connotations in the process of becoming fashionable. The resemblance was instead formal and abstract. Notably, the colour of the thread contrasted with the cloth, distinguishing the new style from the white-on-white embroidery of neoclassical clothing, with monochrome silver or gold silk thread favoured over the colourful wools used in the Bayeux Tapestry.

References to Queen Matilda, as a feminine symbol of embroidery, were politically motivated in support of an economic policy that was intended to revive the dying craft of embroidery. She famously did not wear the same dress twice and changed her toilette at least three times a day. The changeability of fashion in the modern sense, then, had thoroughly invaded the court wardrobe, supplanting the more rigid symbolic values that had previously been invested in luxurious textiles and ceremonial costumes during the early modern period.

Art once again was enlisted in the service of politics. The publicity surrounding this cycle, and the coronation scene in particular, helped prepare the public for the idea of the sacre and the coronation of the empress. The French tradition of grand-scale scenes of coronation ceremonies was meagre, and there were no other pictorial precedents for the coronation of a French queen.

Like the coronation scene, it explicitly conferred a sense of legitimacy on the new empress by re-deploying the traditional iconography of sovereignty. With the Rubens prototype standing behind the painting and the engraving, both works demonstrate the propensity of visual images to generate their own conventions of representation, particularly when, as with the Rubens prototypes, they played a seminal role in authorizing political symbolism.

Government subventions proved less successful in this area than in the silk and embroidery trades, however Women at the British court still wore the wide hoops of the old regime in the early decades of the nineteenth century, but the captivating new style of grand habit designed for Josephine spread to other courts in Europe and was maintained in France after by the restored Bourbon court.

The use of ornate embroidery and lace in both male and female court dress sent costs soaring and Napoleon eventually had to reintroduce a form of sumptuary law to save his courtiers from too much expense All the same, he encouraged lavish spending on clothing, and opened special financial credits for his courtiers for this purpose, in order to make his court appear more splendid, magnificent, and glittering than other courts in Europe.

Most observers agreed that he accomplished this aim The majority of officially commissioned life-size portraits of Josephine in her coronation robes appear to have been sent to foreign courts and offices of the imperial government.


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The audience for the imperial symbolism of their costumes was primarily administrative and diplomatic. They were intended to fulfil the customary function of a painted portrait of a monarch and his consort, to represent the sovereign in locations where his power was administered. Dominique-Vivant Denon, the general director of museums, tightly controlled the exhibition of images of the head of state and generally only allowed artists to submit small-scale portraits of them such as miniatures and reproductive engravings The notable exception was the Salon of Large groups of portraits by individual artists were shown, including works executed several years earlier.

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Fashion and the Reinvention of Court Costume in Portrayals of Josephine de Beauharnais ()

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