Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Even when I am gone, I shall remain in people's minds."--Napoleon

On Saturday, my friend Sara and I trekked to Anaheim to the Muzeo, which is currently hosting the Treasures of Napoleon exhibit. I was excited to see it because I really didn't know much about Napoleon. While driving there, we tried to remember facts about him...all we could come up with was that he was short, he was excommunicated to Elba, and he was funny in Night at the Museum 2. Fortunately, we were able to learn a little bit more about him after attending the exhibit, which covered everything from his early life up to his death.

The first thing we wanted to figure out was what he really looked like. Obviously, Napoleon was conscious of controlling his image, and we weren’t sure if the portraits we saw were "real" portraits or just idealized images of a “hero.” Judging from the first-known portrait of him (above), at age twenty-eight, he was pretty attractive. Sara said she’d “totally go out with him.” Ha.

The other thing we wanted to figure out was who he really was, which we didn't really get a grasp on. From the information in the museum, we learned that he was a keen judge of character, yet somehow trusted disloyal colleagues. He seemed to be deeply in love with his first wife, but divorced her after she failed to produce an heir. He cared about his soldiers, yet abandoned them when he felt it expedient. He did everything he could to strengthen the French nation, but in doing so, kept her in a state of war for twenty years. After all this time, he is still a mystery.

I can’t tell you all of his famous battles or accomplishments or important information about him, but I can tell you the following:

His peeps discovered the Rosetta Stone when they invaded Egypt! (I'm jealous. I've always wanted to make an important archaeological discovery.) Napoleon brought teams of scholars, artists, and scientists along with his army when he traveled to document what they found. He valued education, was a voracious reader, and loved math and geography.

He was notoriously frugal about his clothes and he often would get things repaired that would have been easier to replace! The exhibit had a sleeve from one of his jackets…the story goes that a waiter spilled sauce on the jacket, he went to get the sleeve replaced, and the tailor kept the sleeve. You can still see the sauce on it! I bet if eBay had existed back then, tons of Napoleon’s things would have been sold on it. Even during his lifetime, his personal possessions were regarded as treasured relics of a great man. The exhibit even has a lock of his hair.

He was 5’6” tall and according to a general, his teeth were “bad and dirty.”

His grandnephew founded the F.B.I. Random!

He was kind of obsessed with personal cleanliness. He started each day with a one-hour hot bath. Then he shaved and washed his hands with almond paste and his face, neck, and ears with soap and water. Then he would strip to his waist and pour eau de cologne over his head and down his torso. (Guess he didn’t care as much about his teeth.)

Sara and I really enjoyed the exhibit. It’s easy to see how Napoleon used the arts as propaganda to build his legend and to instill respect and admiration for himself and his policies. He seemed to be in complete control of his image. It’s crazy to think about the power of art and how it has shaped our view of historical figures.

The last part of the exhibit was a dark room with a spotlight on Napoleon’s hat, the greatest icon of the legend. He wore it “broadside on,” meaning the sides were parallel to his shoulders, so that he could be distinguished from his officers in battle. It was definitely the gem of the exhibit and a thrill to see!

The exhibit is only here until January 8th, so visit soon.

1 comment:

Tom Bailey said...

Thank you for sharing this! I had no idea. I am seriously going to have to check it out.

Great blog.

Best regards,
Tom Bailey