Napoleon and his legitimacy as a warrior

Napoleon and his legitimacy as a warrior

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Title: Oath of the army made to the emperor after the distribution of the Eagles at the Champs de Mars.

Author : DAVID Jacques Louis (1748 - 1825)

Creation date : 1810

Date shown: 05 December 1804

Dimensions: Height 610 - Width 931

Technique and other indications: (5 December 1804) Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - P. Willi

Picture reference: 89EE477 / MV. 2278

Oath of the army made to the emperor after the distribution of the Eagles at the Champs de Mars.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - P. Willi

Publication date: November 2014


Napoleon and his legitimacy as a warrior


Historical context

Already an emblem of the Roman armies, of the German emperors, then of Prussia, Sicily and the United States, the eagle was adopted in June 1804 as the emblem of the empire by decision of Napoleon. This is the text of the oath taken by the Emperor.

Image Analysis

The painting of David belongs to the works commissioned for the celebrations of the coronation. In this composition, which is much more dynamic than The Coronation is, on the left on the platform we can distinguish the great dignitaries of the new regime: Duroc, Grand Marshal of the Palace, Cambacérès and Lebrun, Louis and Joseph Bonaparte, Eugène de Beauharnais, the Empress Joséphine and several other figures. The Emperor stepped forward surrounded by the new marshals Berthier, Bernadotte, Murat, Augereau, Masséna, Lannes, etc., brandishing their sticks. The moment of the ceremony chosen by David is when, with unanimous enthusiasm, all the soldiers shout to the Emperor: "We swear it! We recognize there hunters, grenadiers, dragons. The outstretched arms of the soldiers and those of the marshals meet in a sort of triangle, the apex of which would be formed by the eagle and the tricolor which surmount the tent at the back of the painting. The eagle, a sacred animal from ancient Roman times, emblem of the sovereign Jupiter, is believed to announce the light and represent the sun. But it is no longer Napoleon who is at the center of this sumptuous composition, he only descends towards his army. The symbolism here is more abstract. However, the eagle on the flag somewhat plays the role of the cross in the coronation table.


The democratic legislator of the Revolution has been replaced by the soldier who has become emperor. Consecrated by religion and by the eagle, bird of light, it derives its legitimacy from the popular base ensured by the oath of all army corps and the endorsement it has received from the Church. In fact, we can distinguish the sacred sovereign, who appears in The Coronation, from the vigilante sovereign shown in The Army Oath. It is as if we had here a split of imperial power into two entities. Just as the three colors of the national flag each symbolize, as shown by Georges Dumezil (sovereign's white, warrior's red and producers' blue), the color white divides itself into two sides materialized in David's paintings. by the two symbols which surmount his compositions: the cross and the eagle. Thus, David seems to have reasoned according to ancient representations deeply rooted in the European spirit, and reactivated at the time of the Revolution and the Empire.

  • army
  • Champ-de-Mars
  • Great Army
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • coronation of Napoleon
  • oath
  • political symbol
  • Cambaceres (Jean-Jacques-Régis de)


Louis BERGERON The Napoleonic Episode. Interior aspects. 1799-1815 Paris, Seuil, coll. "Points", 1972. Claire CONSTANS National Museum of the Palace of Versailles: Paintings , 2 vol. Paris, RMN, 1995 Eudore SOULIE Notice from the Versailles museum , 4 vol. Paris, Mourgues Frères, 1861-1881 Adolphe THIERS History of the Consulate and the Empire , 20 vol. Paris, Paulin-Lheureux, 1845-1862. Jean TULARD (ed.) Napoleon dictionary Paris, Fayard, 1987. Jean TULARD (dir.) The History of Napoleon through painting Paris, Belfond, 1991 Jean TULARD, Louis GARROS Day-to-day itinerary of Napoleon 1769-1821 Paris, Tallandier, 1992 Collective From David to Delacroix , catalog of the exhibition at the Grand-PalaisParis, 1974-1975. Dominique Vivant Denon. Napoleon's eye Paris, catalog of the exhibition at the Louvre, 1999. Paris, 1999

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "Napoleon and his legitimacy as a warrior"

Video: Kaiserreich Guide - How to get Emperor Napoleon VI! Kept ya waiting, huh?


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