Posts Tagged ‘France’

Napoelovember: Napoleon and Art

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Besides being a military leader, a statesman, an Emperor, and a “scientist,” Napoleon was also a patron of the arts.

Or at least, he was an art thief and patron of propaganda.

As for the propaganda, Napoleon employed many artists, including some really great ones, to document his victories and achievements in wildly dramatic and heroic paintings. Neoclassicism was all the rage in Napoleon’s time, in no small part due to the fact that Napoleon was trying to recreate a monumental Empire in the classic sense. Here’s some examples of Napoleonic propaganda art:

Napoleon_at_the_Battle_of_Rivoli Jean-Léon_Gérôme_003 David_-_Napoleon_crossing_the_Alps_-_Malmaison1 Bouchot_-_Le_general_Bonaparte_au_Conseil_des_Cinq-Cents 800px-Napoleon_returned

Quelle dramatique!

In addition, Napoleon expanded the Louvre (renamed the Musée Napoléon during his reign) to hold all of the art he stole during his conquests.

Stole? Yes. Napoleon was the first conqueror of the modern era to make art looting standard practice for a victorious army. Stealing art was a way to make money to support the war effort, and also a way to show the power of the French conquerors to audiences at home and abroad. It made the Louvre home to one of the greatest art collections in the world. Napoleon started his looting in Italy, and continued his work throughout Europe and in Egypt, where he amassed a huge collection of ancient artifacts, including the Rosetta stone, which his archeologists discovered.

Here are just a few of the masterpieces that Napoleon’s forces stole:

Paolo_Veronese_008 Descent_from_the_Cross_(Rembrant) 800px-Horses_of_Basilica_San_Marco_bright 431px-Pompeo_Batoni_003

But turnabout is fair play. When Napoleon lost the war, the British collected his spoils. Rather than finding a home at the Louvre, the majority of Napoleon’s stolen antiquities ended up forming the core of the British Museum in London, where they are to this day.

Adieu Louvre, hello, BM!

Adieu Louvre, hello, BM!

Napolovember: Napoeoddities

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

This month we’re celebrating Napoleon on the PhLog. Here are some odd facts about him:

Contrary to legend, Napoleon wasn’t short. His height is often reported as five foot two, but that was under the French measurement system, which converts to around 5’7”/ 169 centimeters. English propaganda helped promote the idea of a tiny Napoleon, but in fact his height was quite average.

Napoleon’s penis is in the United States. When Napoleon died, the priest who delivered the last rights took a number of Napoleon’s personal effects, plus a few organs after the autopsy, including his penis. The priest’s family held onto the penis until 1916. Eventually it was auctioned off and bought by an American urologist. It is still believed to be in the possession of his family.

Napoleon’s family called him Nabulio.

Napoleon suffered from painful hemorrhoids. For a man who spent much of his life on horseback, this was significant disability, and it may have cost him the battle of Waterloo. He was kept up the night before battle with pain from riding the day before, and was unable to mount a horse to survey his troops and exercise command during the battle.

To this day it’s illegal to name a pig Napoleon in France. As a result, the name of the pig in French editions of Orwell’s Animal Farm is called “Cesar” instead.


Napoleovember: An 18th Century Donald Trump

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

This month we’re celebrating Napoleon on the PhLog.

Napoleon was a man convinced of his own greatness. He won fame and power through military conquest, and his mastery of self-promotion and propaganda culminated in a lavish coronation ceremony, where, about to be crowned Emperor by the Pope, he took the crown into his own hands and crowned himself.

Napoleon loved propaganda. He made Jean-Louis David his official artist. You know, so he could have paintings made of himself like this:


But that is not all that Napoleon did to give himself eternal glory. Napoleon, as the head of state, wanted to be the head of everything.

Napoleon was Italian! So he became the King of Italy.

According to Napoleon, he was a brilliant scientist! So he appointed himself president of the French Academy of Sciences, and demanded an honorary membership of the Scientific Division of the French Institute.

According to Napoleon, he was a brilliant mathematician! There’s a theorem named after him although there’s doubt as to whether he was the one to make the discovery or the one who should be granted the credit for it.

It’s hard to believe today, but Napoleon actually got away with this type of behavior.

Nobel_Prize  TrumpTowerimages

Napoleovember: All in Napoleon’s Family

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

As befits an Emperor, Napoleon’s rise to power also brought about the rise of his family. This was surprising for a country that had violently rid itself of its monarchy a few years earlier, but once Napoleon was crowned, family rule was once again the way of the land.

Napoleon’s oldest brother Joseph became king of Naples and Sicily, and then of Spain.


Napoleon’s youngest brother Louis was crowned King of Holland.


His son Louis II ascended to the throne following Louis I’s abdication. Louis II only ruled Holland for nine days, but that is still pretty impressive for a five-year-old.


Jérôme, Napoleon’s youngest brother, was named King of Westphalia. Years after Napoleon’s fall, Jérôme’s nephew became president of France, and once again familial nepotism reigned as Jérôme was given the role of first Prince and Count of Montfort.


Elisa was Napoleon’s only sister to be given a crown. She was installed as Princess of Lucca and Piombino, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and the Countess of Compignano.


Louis-Napoléon, Napoleon’s nephew and heir, was eventually crowned as Napoleon III, and was the last Napoleon to reign as King.


But although the Napoleons lost the throne, the family still treats itself as royalty, with the 28-year-old Jean-Christophe Prince Napoléon as the current heir.


Proving that privileged families tend to hold on to their privilege for generations, the Napoleon family has gone on to high places the world over. There’s even an American branch of the family: Napoleon’s great-nephew (Jérôme’s grandson), Charles Joseph Bonaparte, was Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Navy and Attorney General and went on to found the Bureau of Investigations (now known as the F.B.I.). As a trust buster for Roosevelt and investigator for the Department of Justice, Bonaparte was known as “Charlie the Crook Chaser.”



Napoleovember: Things Named After Napoleon

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Happy Napoleovember! This month on the PhLog, we’re celebrating all things Napoleon.

Today’s post is about THINGS NAMED AFTER NAPOLEON.

Once you start looking for it, you see Napoleon’s name everywhere. Here are just a few things named after him.


Napoleon is said to have loved cognac and even apparently had it rationed to his artillery companies during the Napoleonic Wars. So now cognac companies capitalize off this bit of legend.


The Napoleon, aka mille-feuille, is a staple French pastry now found across the world. But contrary to popular belief, this dessert has nothing to do with the French Emperor. The original name was gateau napolitain after the city of Naples, but it was corrupted into the name Napoleon.


Napoleon was for a time quite popular in the United States. So much so that there are cities named “Napoleon” in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota (pictured above), and Ohio.


The extremely large humphead wrasse is also known as the Napoleonfish. We’re not quite sure why. Perhaps because it looks like it’s wearing a blue hat?


The Napoleon Complex describes a manner of behavior in which a short person (usually a man) attempts to compensate for his short stature through domineering, overly-aggressive behavior. Think Vladimir Putin or Silvio Berlusconi.

The irony of this is that contrary to legend, Napoleon wasn’t actually short (as will be explained in a future post).


Napoleonite, also called corsite (named after the island of Corsica, home to both the rock and Napoleon) and is a variety of diorite.



For a while there everyone was the “Napoleon of such-and-such.” Here’s just a few examples:

P. G. T. Beauregard, the Confederate general, was called “Little Napoleon.”

While Union General George B. McClellan was called “Young Napoleon.”

African warlord Mirambo was called “Napoleon of Central Africa.”

U.S. president James K. Polk was known as “Napoleon of the Stump.”

Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna was called “Napoleon of the West.

Neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot was called “Napoleon of the Neuroses.”

And master criminal Adam Worth (pictured above) was dubbed the “Napoleon of Crime.”

This is a pretty impressive legacy for a general/Emperor who was twice defeated and ended his days disgraced in exile. Especially when you look at what his victorious enemies have named after them.


Napoleovember: Things We Owe to Napoleon

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014


We’re dedicating November on the PhLog to Napoleon Bonaparte, the great French general / dictator / Emperor.

Napoleon embodied the contradictions of the Enlightenment: revolutionary ideals crossed with military rule. He conquered Europe for personal and national gain, but spread a relative degree of liberty and enlightenment thinking across the continent.

Which leads us to the topic of our first post:


Napoleon’s conquest and rule transformed Europe politically, socially, and culturally. Here are just a few developments of the Napoleonic Era which we take for granted today.

Driving on the right

Traffic patterns in Europe, dating back to the Roman era, tended to flow on the left side of the road. But revolutionary France, being contrary, decreed that traffic would flow on the right. Napoleon’s armies traveled down the right side of the road throughout Europe. Countries allied with or conquered by Napoleon shifted traffic patterns to accommodate the French military. This is why people in Great Britain, never conquered by Napoleon, still drive on the left.

Legal equality

The Napoleonic code, instituted across countries that Napoleon occupied, established legal equality among all classes.* Jews were emancipated. The Catholic church in Rome temporarily lost its power. And although many of Napoleon’s reforms (such as the emancipation of the Jews) were rolled back after Napoleon’s defeat, thoughts of freedom remained in the memories of European citizens. And other countries not conquered by Napoleon enacted reforms too. Prussia, for example, felt obligated to do so in order to compete with France.

*Note, this is only true for men. Napoleon rolled back several gains women made in Revolutionary France, such as the right to divorce and to handle money. Sorry, ladies.

The Rosetta Stone

When Napoleon sent his army to Egypt, he also sent along 167 scientists, engineers, artists and scholars to document and study the remains of ancient Egyptian civilization. Mostly this meant plundering, but in the process the French rediscovered the Rosetta Stone, and for the first time in the modern era, hieroglyphics could be decyphered.

The Metric System

He didn’t invent it, but Napoleon made the metric system the standard measuring system on continental Europe.

Canned food

It was a huge challenge to feed Napoleon’s armies as they traveled throughout Europe. Limited food sources meant limited military campaigns. So the French government offered a huge cash prize to any inventor who could devise a means to preserve a large amount of food. Confectioner and brewer Nicholas Appert developed a process of sealing food in glass jars that would prevent them from spoiling (although understanding the reason why this was the case would have to wait for Louis Pasteur 50 years later). Glass was soon replaced with ton or iron canisters (hence the word “can”) and canning was born! In an ironic twist of history, the world would have to wait 30 years until someone got around to inventing the can opener. Luckily, the French army had no shortage of bayonets.

A Napoleonic-era glass food canister.

National Personification: Marianne

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

Today is Bastille Day!  In honor of France, and as part of our examination of National Personification this month, we present Marianne, the symbol of France.

It’s unclear where her name came from, but the figure of Marianne is an allegorical symbol for Liberty, Reason, the French Nation, and the civic virtues of the Republic.

Marianne is young, strikingly beautiful, and wears (or holds) a Phrygian cap, which is associated with freedom from slavery in the Roman era.

She appears on stamps, coins, you name it.  They take her pretty seriously.

Images of a French lady of liberty precede the Revolution, but it was in 1792 that Marianne became the symbol of the republic.  A commoner, Marianne was intended to be a representative of the people, rather than of the royal family, who had previously represented the French State.  Marianne has a humble background, as indicated by her dress.  She’s brave and hard working, and often falling out of her clothes while she’s being brave and hard working.  Gotta love the French.

For most of her history, Marianne was modeled after imaginary or anonymous women, but starting in 1969, France started modeling her after French celebrities.  Brigitte Bardot was the first celebrity to lend her likeness to the national symbol.  The current celebrity to provide the image of Marianne is actress and model Laetitia Casta.

Controversially, Laetitia Casta currently lives in England.  So much for patriotism.