Power and Splendor

Napoleon’s imperial household at VMFA.

Napoleon in His Study Wearing the Uniform of a Grenadier of the Guard, ca. 1813–30, Imperial School of Mosaics of Francesco Belloni.

Photos courtesy of VMFA

Napoleon: Power and Splendor, on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond through Sept. 3, provides a rare view into the private household of France’s self-titled emperor.

Created in partnership with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the exhibition began 10 years ago through a donation of Napoleon’s personal effects, including his iconic tricorne and a boot, from a private collection.

The artwork and furnishings belonging to and depicting Napoleon and his family are divided into galleries centered around the six Grand Offices, which served the imperial household, including the Grand Master of the Hunt and the Master Chamberlain. Screens, sounds and projections throughout the exhibition galleries provide an immersive experience. “I would love for people to feel as if they have been able to turn back the hands of time and have just left the palace having enjoyed the splendors of court life in Paris in the 1800s,” says Alex Nyerges, director of VMFA.

The exhibition also provides a unique perspective on what Sylvain Cordier, curator of early decorative arts at the Montreal Museum, describes as Napoleon’s active personal “branding” efforts. “We hoped to re-contextualize the idea of Napoleon by focusing on the life within the palace, the people surrounding him, and the protocol and way of life,” says Cordier. Each of the more than 200 works represents a piece of the narrative actively “fashioned and conceived” by the emperor and his court of Napoleon as a hero. VMFA.museum

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