The resulting painting, on which David worked between 1805 and 1808, is perhaps one of the artist’s most immediately recognisable compositions and is today housed in the illustrious collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris (fig.1). The full title of the painting is the Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804 and the care and attention which David evidently paid this commission is perhaps best demonstrated through some of the surviving preparatory drawings for the project, the vast majority of which are now housed in many of the world’s most important museum collections.
The whereabouts of the present drawing, executed in the artist’s preferred combination of pen and grey ink and wash, over black chalk, had not been seen by Rosenberg and Prat (see Literature) when they compiled their authoritative catalogue raisonné of David’s drawings in 2002, and though prominently included in the catalogue, the combination of media could only be speculated on, based on an old black and white photograph of the drawing.
The subsequent re-emergence of the present sheet from a distinguished private American collection allows us to determine with certainty the subtle yet highly distinctive combination of media that David employed, as well as marvel at the fine condition of this important and rare drawing.
The drawing itself depicts a Bishop holding a cross, surrounded on each side by a Cleric, both of whom also wear Bishop’s mitres in David’s finished painting. The positioning of these three figures is absolutely integral to the composition of the painting, as David symbolically places them directly between Napoleon and the kneeling Josephine, whom the newly self-anointed Emperor is in the process of crowning. The presence of these three overtly religious figures adds additional gravitas to the proceedings, by referencing one of the key traditions of Western European Art, that of Divine Ordination, whereby rulers seek to portray their power as God-given.
Only a handful of other studies for individual figures or small groups of figures in this essential composition survive, including comparable black chalk studies in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Musée du Louvre, Paris and the Stanford University Museum of Art, Stanford.1 None of these studies, however, show the same high level of finish as the present work, which, with its liberal use of grey wash and the intricate detail and personality imbued by the artist to the three figures portrayed, is a particularly fine example of its type.
Rosenberg and Prat also point out the fascinating existence of a drawing (fig.2) which forms part of David’s Carnet 6,2 now in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, in which the same three religious figures are once again depicted by David, though this time in a far more rudimentary fashion and in black chalk alone. However the existence of both drawings is further evidence of the importance that David placed on these three central figures, making the present work a highly important preparatory drawing for one of the artist's most prestigious commissions.
1. Rosenberg and Prat, op.cit., pp. 219-222, nos. 208-211, reproduced
2. Ibid., vol. II, p. 1016, no. 1565, reproduced
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