French Emperor Napoleon I – Power, Art, & Bees

French Emperor Napoleon I – Power, Art, & Bees
Best known for his military achievements, Napoleon I expanded the Louvre
and redecorated his residence at the Tuileries Palace.
I’ll explain why he chose bees to adorn some of his robes and furnishings.

The lives of French Emperor Napoleon I and his first wife Empress Josephine: legendary – their love: timeless. I, like so many others, have a fascination for Napoleon and his life. You may not agree with his battles or conquest of countries, but it’s agreed upon by most historians that Napoleon I was one of the greatest military leaders that ever lived.

As he relates to the world of art, Napoleon expanded the Louvre to include the Cour Careé and the Grande Galerie wings, which still exist to this day. In 1803, Napoleon would rename the Louvre the "Napoleon Museum."

The Tuileries Palace was the royal residence adjacent to the Louvre - destroyed by arson in 1871 - all that remains today are the formal Tuileries Gardens.

Napoleon I lived at the Tuileries Palace with Josephine and their son a few months out of the year. He would have the palace redecorated in the Empire Neoclassical style. Today, in the Richelieu Wing of the Louvre,are "Napoleon’s Apartments."

Emperor Napoleon I was painted by many notable French artists: Jacques-Louis David's "The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries" (1812),and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' "Napoleon Enthroned" (1806).

These two paintings speak ‘volumes’ of Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s first emperor (1804-1814) and his opulent clothing and furnishings.
In the Ingres painting, Napoleon I wears a coronation robe decorated with 300 bees. He sits on a throne of carved and gilded wood, covered in red velvet with silver embroidery.

The bee can be traced back to Childeric I (436-481), one of the king’s of Gaul and the founder of the Merovingian dynasty in France. His tomb was uncovered in 1653 and inside, 300 golden jewels were found, in the style of bees.

By using the bee as the emblem of his reign, he was paying homage to Childeric I. A wonderful example of the bee and the letter "N" can be found on the Savonnerie Carpet from the Throne Room of the Tuileries Palace.

In 2008, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston held the exhibition "Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style, 1800-1815." Of these 200 paintings and decorative art, my favorites were: Napoleon’s sword - richly decorated with the laurel wreath and Roman eagle (both imperial emblems), Empress Josephine’s Letter Box of root wood, ebony, and gilded bronze which contained love letter from Napoleon, and the painting by Ingres.

I, like so many of us, are interested in preserving the bee population. Let’s do what we can to protect them from extinction as much of the food throughout the world depends on the honey bee’s pollination. Organizations such as help in research and breeding these fascinating insects.

You can own a giclee print of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' "Napoleon on His Imperial Throne" aka "Napoleon Enthroned" (1806), available here from
Napoleon on His Imperial Throne, 1806

Napoleon on His...


Buy This at

You can own the book, "Symbols of Power in Art (a Guide to Imagery)" available here from

Related Articles
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map

Content copyright © 2023 by Camille Gizzarelli. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Camille Gizzarelli. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Camille Gizzarelli for details.