Napoleon’s great cultural charade

Many of his contemporaries suspected that he harboured no genuine love for the arts. So why was Napoleon so desperate to project himself as a connoisseur of culture? Alan Forrest investigates

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries by Jacques-Louis David

This article was first published in the Christmas 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine

One of Jacques-Louis David’s most famous paintings (shown above) depicts Napoleon in  his study at the Tuileries Palace. It dates from 1812, the year of his most ambitious foreign adventure, the ill-fated Russian campaign. Yet it has little to do with war. Instead it shows a slightly wearied emperor leaning against the desk after the labours of the day.

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