A military hero to some, a monster to others, Napoleon Bonaparte shaped French history like no other. On the bicentenary of his death, we investigate a complex character who exploited art and imagery to build his ‘personal brand’ and to dominate the story of his victorious rule.
We head to his hometown in Corsica to find out how the young man developed an insatiable work ethic and strategic approach, with input from author Philippe Perfettini revealing the quirky facets of his character. The former home of the Bonaparte family in Ajaccio is now the island’s most popular museum. Director Jean-Marc Olivesi points us to some telling details inside that turn out to be revealing about the young man’s personality.
After being crowned Emperor in 1804, he settled in Fontainebleau Castle, outside of Paris. We visit this royal residence to find out how paintings and portraits furthered his ambitions as he called on artists like Jacques-Louis David to present an idealized view of his military conquests and coronation.
Two hundred years after his death, Napoleon’s mark on the landscape includes monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Madeleine Church and the Rue de Rivoli that are cherished in Paris. Still, his political projects were much controversial at the time, including the restoration of slavery in certain French colonies. To learn more, we visit an exhibition at his final resting place, Les Invalides, where contemporary artists revisited the legend of Napoleon and reassessed his legacy from a 21st century perspective.