Napoleon's funeral procession

Napoleon's funeral procession

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Title: Napoleon's funeral convoy.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1835

Date shown: 09 May 1821

Dimensions: Height 40.5 - Width 62.5

Technique and other indications: wood grain (colored with a stencil) on laid paper Epinal - Imagerie Pellerin (publisher, printer) Legal deposit: March 24, 1835.

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Picture reference: 03CE797 / 53.12.28 D

Napoleon's funeral convoy.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: November 2004

Historical context

Captive on the island of Sainte-Hélène, Napoleon I died on May 5, 1821. Napoleon's remains remained there until October 15, 1840, when they were transferred to France, at Les Invalides.

Image Analysis

In the second codicil of his will, Napoleon begins with: "I want my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people whom I have loved so much" (Extract from the report of Doctor Antomarchi. Dayot A ., p. 443). His wish would not be granted until the ashes returned in 1840, because English Governor Sir Hudson had been ordered to keep Napoleon's remains on the island. Thus, not being able to repatriate the body, the French had it buried in a valley where the emperor liked to walk, near a source whose waters relieved him. It will therefore bear the name of “Valley of the Tomb”.

This image represents her as an arid, steep, almost threatening place. The shadows cast from the poor rays of a dying sun add to the dramaturgy of the scene. The image is deliberately stripped down, the author having given up representing the whole procession, more imposing in reality (Antomarchi speaks of a crowd. Op cit, p. 447), to emphasize the pathetic end of a man who was and remains, at the time of the execution of this plate, one of the most adulated heads of state.
All eyes are on the vault. This gaping grave is actually the main character of the scene and not the arriving coffin, carried by the grenadiers. It alone symbolizes human destiny, abandonment, fall. The eye of the beholder is brought to focus, to linger there to meditate on the work of death. True punctum of this image, it is reminiscent of The Burial at Ornans. In this painting, which he painted ten years after the creation of this image, Courbet will not hesitate to place the viewer at the level of the funeral grave, with all the figures facing him. In the canvas are found the simplicity of the scene, the simplicity of the composition and the muted tones of the image of Epinal, but with the dimensions specific to the great painting of history.


This engraving, atypical in Spinalian production, reveals a great mastery of composition in the service of the message it expresses. Attesting to the extent of the shock caused by the death of the Emperor, it also bears witness to the revival of the cult of Napoleon in the 1830s.
Coming from a series of plates illustrating the life of Napoleon I, this one differs from the accounts of the great battles. Refined, endowed with a dramaturgy subtly playing on shadows and colored areas, it is one of those images which, widely disseminated, aroused a reflection that goes beyond their subject. In this, it opens the way to a conception of representation that Courbet will introduce into the artistic world under the term of realism.

  • Napoleonic legend
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)


Armand DAYOT Napoleon told by the image after sculptors, engravers and painters Paris, Hachette, 1895.Jean-Marie DUMONT The Maîtres Graveurs populaire, 1800-1850Epinal, Pellerin, 1965.Nicole GARNIERThe French popular imageryetome II “Images d ' Epinal engraved on wood ”, Paris, RMN, 1996.Bernard HUINThe French popular imagery at the museum of EpinalEpinal, Departmental Museum of the Vosges, 1988.Jean LUCAS-DUBRETONThe Cult of Napoleon.1815-1848Paris, Albin Michel, 1960.Jean MISTLER , François BLAUDEZ and André JACQUEMINEpinal and popular imagery Paris, Hachette, 1961 Jean TULARD (ed.) Dictionary of Napoleon Paris, Fayard, 1989 Jean TULARD Le Mythe de Napoléon Paris, Armand Colin, 1971 Bernard MENAGER Les Napoléons du peuple Paris, Aubier, 1988.

To cite this article

Nathalie JANES, "The funeral convoy of Napoleon"

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