Drawing, Embroidery Design Commemorating the Marriage of Napoleon I and Marie-Louise of Austria, ca. 1810
Brush and white gouache on laid paper, coated with resin, joined. Gift of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt. 1920-36-327
What is this?
Center, beneath crown, are two initials- a superimposed N and M encircled by stars and a wreath of roses. Upper center, two entwined wreaths - one of laurel, and the other of a chrysanthemum-like flower. Upper corners, oak sprigs; lower corners, floral sprigs. Lower center, the Napoleonic eagle. The Legion of Honor medallion hangs below the eagle.
Why is this important?
The resin coated paper of this design has yellowed with age, providing a crisp contrast with the white gouache. It was once a transparent tracing paper, referred to as papier huilé in France, where it was made. Tracing papers were used by designers and craftspeople who wished to make copies of an existing drawing. Each detail of this embroidery design for a chair back or wall hanging has been carefully delineated, providing a clear working instruction for the embroiderer. The symbolic language of the design is immediately recognizable as being Napoleonic. As emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte’s chosen emblems were used endlessly to express imperial power. Entwined beneath a crown, the initials 'N' and 'M' commemorate the marriage in 1810 of Napoleon to his second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria. The couple’s cipher is circled by five-pointed stars of the Bonaparte family coat of arms. Below, an eagle clutching the Legion of Honor medallion evokes the power of imperial ancient Rome and the Carolingian dynasty. The wreath of roses is an allusion to the youth of Marie-Louise, while the laurel wreath is a classical symbol of triumph.