Was Napoleon's character misjudged?

Antique pictures around 1800. Napoleon and the art of medals

General, emperor, megalomaniac. Napoleon Bonaparte is fascinated by historiography to this day, not least because of the impressive, mostly large-format paintings that show him in dramatic scenes. This size can also be found on a small scale: Napoleon was fascinated by medals all his life and already at the beginning of his rule ordered that “medals should be minted on all glorious or happy events from the past and future of the republic, following the example of the Greeks and Romans ". Napoleon entrusted the archaeologist and historian Dominique-Vivant Denon with this task when he appointed him director of the Paris medal mint. Denon was extremely adept at the use of image propaganda and particularly adept at processing ancient motifs in order to further glorify Napoleon's fame. Denon soon controlled all French medal production.
The ancient imagery, which was often characterized by individual attributes of different Roman gods, was particularly well suited for the limited area of ​​a medal to represent complex facts simply and yet convincingly. In addition, the reference to antiquity gave the deeds of Napoleon and his army a historical dimension and a long tradition, which enabled the French general and emperor to legitimize his rule.
Never in the history of numismatics have as many medals been minted as under Napoleon's rule. To this day, they report on the extraordinary sense of mission and the skillful use of centuries-old motifs that have not lost their effect to this day. Dominique-Vivant Denon knew about this effect and wrote in 1810: "Medals are the only witnesses of fame that endure all centuries."
The registration of the medals on Napoleon Bonaparte was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW, https://nvbw.zaw.uni-heidelberg.de/).

[Sophie Preiswerk]

[51 Objects]

After Mantua was taken in the course of the Italian campaign, French troops marched against the Austrian army under Archduke Karl. The French were able to push back the Austrians and win in the battle of the Tagliamento River by taking Trieste and celebrate another success. A medal was minted for these victories, which the French Italian Army was to celebrate in a special way. The obverse shows a river god, the personification of a river in the form of an old man, which has been used since ancient times. The river god of the medal means the Tagliamento and is depicted in a fleeing gesture. In the background of the motif there is a break with the ancient depiction by depicting contemporary artillery of the French army. The reverse of the medal celebrates the French troops in a laurel wreath that represents victory. The medal is a fine example of how contemporary events were enriched by ancient motifs in order to give them a special meaning. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the passage over the Tagliamento and the capture of Trieste in 1797

A medal was minted in Geneva in 1796 in honor of the victorious army of the Italian campaign. The front shows Napoleon Bonaparte with long hair and in uniform. It is interesting that his name is given in Italian, ie as "Buonaparte", contrary to Napoleon's other custom, presumably to emphasize the proximity to Italy. The reverse shows Minerva, the Roman goddess of war, enthroned on all kinds of war implements and stretching out a laurel wreath. The motif illustrates the victory and the defeating of the enemy. The inscription explains the depiction: “See soldiers, the profit from your work.” The depiction of the seated Minerva is borrowed from coin images of the Roman emperors. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for Bonaparte's victories in Italy in 1796

After Napoleon's campaign in Egypt, his successes were a very popular motif among artists, on the one hand to celebrate Napoleon, on the other hand through the charm of the foreign that could be expressed in the works. A medal that was minted in this context shows Napoleon's portrait in a front view slightly to the left with a lotus wreath hovering over his head. The depiction, which differs from the other profile view, is probably explained by the design, which intended to show Napoleon as the conqueror of the Orient and thus in contrast to his other successes. The reverse of the medal shows Napoleon in antique clothing on a chariot pulled by two camels. The Roman goddess of victory, Victoria, hovers above the team. The car appears to be driving through two monuments. These are the so-called Pompey's column and the obelisk called “Cleopatra's needle”. Both monuments are actually in Alexandria, but not next to each other, as the medal shows. The juxtaposition of the obelisk and the column is intended to evoke associations with a triumphal arch. In addition, soldiers who fell in battle were buried at the foot of the Pompey column. This also makes the representation of the pillar a reference to the heroic army. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the conquest of Egypt in 1798

Hortense de Beauharnais was the daughter of Napoleon's first wife Joséphine from her first marriage. Napoleon adopted her after marrying her mother. In 1806 Hortense was married to Napoleon's younger brother Louis and thus became Queen of the Netherlands. In 1810, however, she had to leave Holland again because her husband was forced to abdicate. After Napoleon's fall in 1815, Hortense was forced to leave France, spent some time in Augsburg and then lived in Switzerland for the rest of her life. A medal was struck on Hortense, the obverse of which shows a bust of the queen and indicates her title in Greek inscription. The reverse shows symbols of the fine arts, the queen of which was believed to be the lover. The Greek legend proclaims that the arts are forfeited to those who worship them. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal on Queen Hortense of Holland 1813

General Bonaparte had convinced the French Directory of his planned campaign in Egypt in order to weaken England's trade and foreign policy. On July 21, 1789, Napoleon won the Battle of the Pyramids against the Mamelukes, the Egyptian military slaves, and was able to move to Cairo, thus sealing the conquest of Lower Egypt. A medal was struck on Napoleon's successful campaign. The back shows the pyramids of Giza. On the one hand, the representation arouses the association with the battle of the pyramids, on the other hand, alludes to a legendary speech by Napoleon in which Napoleon is said to have shouted in the shadow of the pyramids that "forty centuries" were looking down on them. The reverse side was also understood in a special way by the contemporary observer. It shows the river god of the Nile, who not only represents the Egyptian river. In addition, the representation is based on a Roman statue, which was captured during the Italian campaign and brought to the Louvre as part of a triumphal procession through Paris. The representation of the personification of the Nile allows the association to two victories at the same time. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the Conquest of Lower Egypt 1789

In 1799 the French conquest of Upper Egypt was complete. A medal was struck on this triumph. The portrait on the obverse is based on an Egyptian bust that was believed to be the mythical hero Memnon at the time (in fact, it is probably a representation of Pharaoh Amenhotep III). According to the myth, Memnon was king of Ethiopia and fought on the side of Priam in the Trojan War. The motif on the reverse is based on ancient coinage. It shows a crocodile tied to a palm tree. In contrast to the schematic representation of the Roman coins, the elaboration of the Napoleonic coin is much finer and more detailed. The Egypt campaign was accompanied by many botanists and zoologists, who made numerous sketches and drawings of Egyptian nature, based on which compositions such as these were created. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the conquest of Upper Egypt in 1799

The victory in the battle of Montenotte (in Liguria) in 1796 against the Austrians was extremely important for Napoleon, since he had only been appointed commander in chief of the French Italian army a few months earlier. A medal was struck on his victory, the front of which shows Napoleon with long hair and in a decorated uniform. The portrait is strongly idealized and harmonious: the facial features appear smooth and unmoved, the hair is arranged in even waves and not even the uniform is wrinkled. This representation allows Napoleon to be stylized as a calm, imperturbable general. The reverse of the medal shows a particularly dynamic motif of the Roman goddess of victory Victoria, who holds a palm branch and a wreath as a sign of victory in her outstretched hand. In the other hand she is carrying a sword. It flies in a powerful gesture over a globe that was drawn in favor of a complete representation of Italy, the theater of war. At the feet of the goddess, who is clearly given a military character by her sword, a defensive hill can be seen, which is just touched by the tip of the toes of Viktoria: The hill thus marks the beginning of a prophesied triumphal march that was to lead Napoleon across Europe . The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the Battle of Montenotte 1796

After the victorious battle of Montenotte in 1796, Napoleon was also able to achieve important victories at Millesimo and Dego (in Liguria) in the same year, whereupon a medal was minted in Milan. The front shows the ancient hero Hercules wrestling with the seven-headed hydra. This motif has often been used as a symbol of strength since ancient times. In the fighting, two heads of the Hydra are already hanging down, which is intended to indicate the two battles won against Austria. The reverse of the medal addresses the French people and promotes solidarity with the French Italian army. These and other slogans did not fail to have an effect: After the battles won in Italy, a wave of enthusiasm broke out in France ‘. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the Battle of Millesimo 1796

After Napoleon's victorious battle near Castiglione in 1796 and the battle near Peschiera that followed shortly afterwards, the Austrians had to retreat to Tyrol. A medal was struck for this success. The front shows three athletic warriors, each clad only with a simple headgear. A clear winner can be seen in the composition, who has grabbed the weight of his opponent in an attacking step position and has already raised his own to a blow. The third warrior is already lying on the ground with a suffering expression. The two defeated opponents symbolize the two Napoleonic successes in Italy. The reverse announces that the medal was minted in honor of the French Army of Italy. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the Battle of Castiglione and the Battle of Peschiera in 1796

On October 17, 1797, Napoleon concluded the Peace of Campoformio with Austria, which ended the Italian campaign. On this occasion, a medal was minted, which the medal artist Benjamin Duvivier designed and produced privately in order to present it to the victorious general as a declaration of honor. Its front shows an expressive portrait of Napoleon in uniform and with long layers of hair. On the back there is a detailed composition, the central figure of which is Napoleon on horseback. In his raised hand he holds a branch of laurel as a sign of victory. The Roman goddess of victory, Victoria, hovers over him, crowning him as a triumphant general. The goddess holds the statue of Apollon von Belvedere under her arm, one of the most famous ancient sculptures of the time. Napoleon had them brought from the Vatican to Paris during the Italian campaign after the Papal States had bought peace with France through money and goods. The two figures in the left field of the medal allude to Napoleon's relationship to the fine arts: They depict Prudentia, the Roman goddess of wisdom, and Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, who in this context are probably representatives of the arts and sciences should be understood. The legend underlines this reading by announcing the appreciation for LES SCIENES ET LES ARTS. With motifs like these, Napoleon was stylized as a patron and patron, as a connoisseur of ancient art and as a promoter of contemporary research. The sculptures brought from Italy also acted as symbols of French triumph. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the Peace of Campoformio 1797

After Napoleon's victorious Italian campaign, euphoria grew among the French population. In 1797, small-format medals, so-called tokens, were minted to celebrate the general's victories. It is conceivable that they were published for the cheering crowd when Napoleon returned to France. The front shows the bust of Napoleon in uniform and with long hair, the inscription addresses him as a hero. The reverse prophesies the fruits of success in four-line writing in a laurel wreath - an accurate prognosis with a view to Napoleon's coup two years later. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Token for Bonaparte's successes in 1796

Napoleon's victory in the Battle of Marengo brought northern Italy back under French control, as illustrated by the medal on its reverse. In the foreground the ancient hero Hercules can be seen, who has laid down his club to help the personification of Italy sitting on the ground. In the background, the goddess of victory writes on her shield that the enemies at Marengo have been smashed. Writing Victoria on a shield is a popular motif for victory among Roman emperors. The sun rises in the background, with Napoleon's star in its center. The inscription in the section that the Cisalpine Republic, an Italian subsidiary republic, has been restored. In its pathetic presentation, the depiction should tell of the salvation of Italy by Napoleon and at the same time usefully usher in a new time for the kingdom. The front shows the bust of Napoleon. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the Battle of Marengo and the Cisalpine Republic 1800

The French military leader Henri de Turenne (1611-1675) was already considered a great French war hero during his lifetime, but all the more so after his death in the Battle of Sasbach because his body was embalmed and buried together with the deadly bullet in the royal abbey of Saint Denis . The corpse escaped the reign of terror of the French Revolution, whose supporters destroyed the graves of the hated monarchy in 1793, but Turenne's mummy was exhibited in Saint Denis and could be viewed for an entrance fee. A little later, a professor of botany even requested the well-preserved corpse for the Museum of Natural History in Paris, where Turenne's mummy was presented to the masses for five years as a scientific sensation - much to the annoyance of French patriots, who saw their war hero vilified. In 1799 Turenne's body was transferred to the park of the Musée des Monuments Français. As early as 1800, however, this brief calm was to be disturbed again: Napoleon Bonaparte ordered that the war hero be brought to the Invalides Cathedral in Paris. The solemn ceremony took place under the direction of the Minister of the Interior Lucien Bonaparte and the Minister of War Lazare Carnot.Napoleon used the reburial to draw parallels between the general Turenne and himself. Henri de Turenne is depicted on the obverse of this medal. Under his bust it is proclaimed that his fame belongs to the French people ("SA GLOIRE APPARTIENT AU PEUPLE FRANCAIS"). The reverse describes in plain writing to whom the war hero owes his glorious calm: the first consul Bonaparte. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the transfer of Turenne's bones to the Invalides Cathedral in 1800

Pauline Bonaparte was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time, Napoleon's favorite sister and complicated. Napoleon first married her to one of his generals, Victor-Emmanuel Lecleerc, whom she reluctantly accompanied to what is now Haiti to suppress a slave revolt. Although Pauline was unfaithful, she nursed her husband on his deathbed when he fell ill with yellow fever. Napoleon arranged her second marriage to Camillo Borghese, who came from one of the most distinguished and above all richest families in Rome. Pauline's sculpture, which shows her as Venus bared, can still be seen today in the Villa Borghese in Rome. Pauline did not allow herself to be disturbed by her husband, but instead led a dissolute life - much to the displeasure of her brother, who only reluctantly took note that his little sister kept feeding the gossip of Europe. In order to be in Paris instead of Rome, she faked health problems. In reality, she enjoyed pompous celebrations and day-long bathing visits. After Napoleon's first fall, Pauline stood by her brother and visited him on the island of Elba for months. After his second exile, she was allowed to settle again in Rome, where she tried to get closer to her husband Camillo. The medal that was struck in her honor shows her bust to the right. The Greek transliteration addresses her as an imperial sister. The reverse of the medals shows the three graces Alaia (shine), Euphrysne (happiness) and Thaleia (blossom). The motif is borrowed from a Roman relief from the Borghese collection, but can also be found on coins from the Roman Empire, to which the composition of the medal resembles in every detail. The Greek inscription asks: "You beautiful, be our queen". The obverse shows the bust of Napoleon in the manner of Roman emperors. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal on Pauline Borghese, the sister of Napoleon 1808

On December 24th, 1800, an assassination attempt on Napoleon was carried out by French royalists, which he escaped by a happy coincidence. Napoleon took the attack as an opportunity to stylize his only chance survival as divine foresight. The miracle of his salvation served as legitimation for his rule. The reverse of this medal alludes to the rescue of Napoleon: It depicts the god of fate as an old man next to the three Parzen, the three goddesses of fate in Roman mythology. The inscription indicates that the ruler is from his own (i.e. the gods of fate) Ambush protected. The front shows a bust of Napoleon, behind which the Napoleonic star is emblazoned. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for a thwarted assassination attempt on Napoleon in Paris 1800

The medal celebrates the end of the church struggle between France and the Papal States and the Pope's approval to subordinate the French clergy to the state. As a result, Catholicism was re-established as the preferred religion in France. The Minister of the Interior called on artists of all kinds to glorify this event - the present medal by Betrand Andrieu was the only one to receive a prize. The reverse shows Prudentia, the Roman goddess of wisdom, who shakes hands with the personification of religion, which has collapsed on the ruins of a church. Scattered around the figure are a cross, books and a Gothic shrine. A bundle of fascia is emblazoned in the background, on which a shield and the lightning bundle of the god Jupiter hang. Above it is a sword and the rooster, the heraldic animal of France. The left background is filled with a schematic representation of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The scene is titled Rétablissement du Culte - Restoration of the Cult. The illustration makes the sublime role of France clear, but depicts religion as an equal partner who can now achieve full size again through clever negotiation with the Papal States. The obverse shows the bust of Napoleon in the manner of Roman emperors. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the re-establishment of the service in 1802

The medal shows Napoleon as the first consul above his consul colleague, on the left in the field Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, the second consul and on the right in the field Charles-Francois Lebrun, the third consul. The inscription gives the names and the titles. The back proclaims the simple but clear message Paix Intérieure, Paix Extérieure - peace within, peace outside ”. On the medal, the peace won is paralleled with the state system that Napoleon reorganized. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk] BRAMSEN, Ludwig: Médallier Napléon le Grand ou Description des Médailles - Décorations Relatives aux Affaires de la France pendant le Consulat et l‘Empire, Premier Partie 1799-1809, Hamburg 1977, p.23, no. 218.

Medal on the transfer of the legislature to the three consuls May 20, 1802

In the days around the coronation celebrations of the new emperor, the city of Paris held a large festival for which the painter Pierre-Paul Prud‘hon provided decorations. The Prefect of the Seine department commissioned him to design this extraordinarily large medal that was to be presented to Napoleon and his wife Josephine. The reverse probably shows a traditional scene in which the new emperor was thanked for the peace and glory of the city of Paris. The emperor replied: "I have come to your midst to assure my good city, Paris, of my special protection." The personification of the city of Paris is shown in a gesture of speech facing the emperor, who is enthroned on the left in an antique guise. The inscription indicates the special protection of the emperor for the city of Paris. In addition to the personification, a ship can be seen, the symbol of the city of Paris, which is steered by a genius, a protective spirit of Roman mythology, whose gaze is directed towards the star of Napoleon above the event. The obverse shows the bust of Napoleon in the manner of Roman emperors. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for Napoleon's coronation celebrations in 1804

The front of the medal shows Napoleon as Emperor of France and as King of Italy, on horseback with a scepter and the "Main de justice", the symbol of France's rule. A triumphal arch is shown in the background of the left section. The reverse shows the Roman goddess Minerva laying three wreaths on an altar. The inscription also refers to the virtue and victory of Napoleon. The screw medal contains an 18-part folding ribbon with copperplate engravings depicting the victories from 1796 to 1800 and from 1805 to 1807 with the location and year. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Screw medal for the victories from 1796 to 1807

The occasion for the medal was a bridge built by Napoleon over the river Durance in south-east France. The reverse shows the Roman goddess Minerva, both goddess of wisdom and tactical warfare, against the backdrop of the flowing Durance. She points to a nymph who represents the river. The front of the medal shows the bust of Napoleon in a cloak and short hair. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the construction of a bridge over the Durance in 1803

The Amiens Peace Treaty, signed in 1802, did not last long. As early as 1803 it was broken in different ways by the two contracting parties France and England. The front of the medal shows England's heraldic animal, the leopard, tearing up a scroll, namely the treaty. What is meant is the English breach of contract in 1803, which France took as an opportunity to occupy the Electorate of Hanover, which formed a personal union with England. The French victory is shown on the reverse of the medal, on which the goddess of victory Viktoria rides a Sachsenross, the heraldic animal of Hanover, and grips it harshly around her neck. The implied submission culminates in the inscription that the silver medal was struck by the Hanover mines. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal on the breach of the peace of Amiens by England and the occupation ...

Napoleon François Charles Bonaparte, Napoleon's and Marie Louise von Austria's son, was never able to succeed his father as a dynasty. When Napoleon abdicated for the second time and finally in 1815, his son was only four years old. Napoleon François, who was born as King of Rome, was appointed Prince of Parma with inheritance rights in 1814, but lost this title three years later when the victorious powers agreed not to allow Bonaparte to sit on an Italian throne. Instead, Napoleon François received rule over Bohemia, which was elevated to a duchy. The new Duke of Reichsstadt himself resided in Vienna at the age of just twelve. Neglected by his mother, Napoleon François emulated his father, whom he had hardly known. He studied war science and dreamed of doing the same as his father's French emperor. However, the young duke had to struggle with lung problems early on, and in 1832 he fell ill with tuberculosis. At the age of 21, Napoleon François, Napoleon's only legitimate son, died in Vienna. The medal, which was minted on his death, is, like probably his whole life, in the influence and after-effects of his famous father. The front even shows Napoleon's death mask in a moving expression. The reverse shows the former Emperor of France in full armor and with a laurel wreath, riding an eagle between cloud towers. He pulls his son close to him. The picture is intended to symbolize the posthumous union of the father with the son, while at the same time striking a dynastic arch, the end of which, however, does not go unmentioned: the reverse shows a falling crown and a broken saber. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal on the death of the Duke of Reichsstadt in 1832

The largest battle of the Russian campaign in 1812 took place near Borodino on the Moskva. Despite numerous losses - "It was not a fight between men, but wild tigers", a Russian captain described the slaughter - Napoleon was able to march on the Russian capital Moscow a week later. A medal was struck on the battle of Borodino, the reverse of which was one shows French hussars riding a blasting horse against the enemy who is already lying on the ground. The composition of the mounted warrior against a fallen opponent is based on victory motifs from ancient coins. The obverse of the medal shows the bust of Napoleon in the manner of Roman emperors. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk]

Medal for the Battle of Borodino 1812

On September 14, 1812, French troops marched on Moscow. The city had misjudged the situation, so it was not yet completely evacuated at this point. After some negotiation, the French general Murat admitted to waiting a few hours with the crew to allow the complete evacuation. Even so, thousands of wounded and sick soldiers were left in the city when the French marched in on the same day. On the evening of September 14th, the first fires broke out in Moscow, and they continued to spread. Only a few days later, the city was almost completely disturbed. The cause of the fires is unclear and cannot be unequivocally reconstructed. The Kremlin, in which Napoleon set up camp, was spared from the fires. He is depicted on the back of a medal, which was minted on the entry into Moscow. On the symbol of Russia, the Napoleonic standard is emblazoned as a symbol of conquest. The obverse shows the bust of Napoleon in the manner of Roman emperors. The registration of this medal was made possible by the Numismatic Association in Baden-Württemberg (NV BW). [Sophie Preiswerk] ZEITZ, Lisa and Joachim: Napoleons Medaille, Petersberg 2013, p.226.

Medal for the entry into Moscow in 1812