Small stature, big power
The largest exhibition of Napoléon Bonaparte ever displayed in Shanghai recently opened at the Shanghai Himalayas Museum. Co-curated by Shen Qibin, chairman of the board of directors of Shanghai Himalayas Museum, and Bernard Chevallier, a global expert on Bonaparte who once served as the curator of Château de Fontainebleau, the event will run through February of 2019.
This exhibition covers Bonaparte’s 52 years of life within five themed areas, bringing together 185 rare treasures including paintings and sculptures of Bonaparte, manuscripts, documents, clothing, ornaments, military articles and even furniture. It also incorporates the works of 11 contemporary artists.
The first thing that comes into view at the museum is a painting of a sleeping lion. On the wall where this painting hangs, it says “China is a sleeping giant, let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.”
Another painting, named “Portrait of the Emperor Napoléon I in Coronation Costume,” also placed at the front of the entrance, shows Bonaparte wearing an ancient Roman-style coronation dress from 1804, when he was first crowned emperor.
The most representative works about Bonaparte are five oil paintings of the emperor sitting atop a horse. The series is called “Napoléon Bonaparte Crossing the Alps by Great Saint Bernard Pass,” and captures the energy and excitement of war.
The first draft of this series is displayed at the exhibition. It was created in 1807 by Jacques-Louis David, a French neoclassical painter, and Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse, who worked in David’s workshop. They are a depiction of Bonaparte’s military career but also demonstrate David’s talent as a propagandist for Bonaparte, who in fact crossed the mountains by mule.
The Napoléonic Code
After the establishment of the First French Empire, Bonaparte promulgated the Napoléonic Code, which laid down the future social order of Western capitalist countries. The 1802 version of the Napoléonic Code also shows up in this exhibition.
Portraits and personal belongings of Bonaparte’s two wives, Empress Joséphine and Empress Marie Louies, are also on display. In this exhibition, Bonaparte is no longer just a figure from history textbooks, but a real person with feelings who loved and was loved.
“This exhibition allows us to travel back in time to around 200 years ago and across thousands of kilometers between the distance of China and France” Li Jian, the deputy secretary-general of Shanghai International Culture Association, said during the opening ceremony of the exhibition on Friday.
In order to create a sense of time-travel, an eight-meter-long interactive media device is located at the entrance of the exhibition, constructed by a multidisciplinary team over the course of 11 months. In the main showroom, an Arc de Triomphe, built with 570,000 white Lego blocks by 30 artists and designers, gives visitors access to the following halls. Meanwhile, a Lego experience area is open to the public in the showroom.
Visitors can also immerse themselves in the lavishness of Paris from two centuries ago. Inspired by Bonaparte’s relationship with Joséphine, a series of immersive decorations and scenes, such as a replicate of the chair Bonaparte sat in after being crowned emperor, and scaleddown cathedral posts, are available for selfie-taking.
The exhibition also includes a dialogue among 12 contemporary artists who share their perspectives and opinions about Bonaparte as their subject matter. “We hope the relics will feel alive and build a better relationship between France and China” said Shen Qibin.
A musical show about Bonaparte and Xiang Yu (232BC–202BC), a military general in ancient China, will be performed every night, allowing people to communicate with giants from both countries.
Paul Freches, Cultural Consul at the Consulate General of France in Shanghai said, “This exhibition is representative of the cultural exchange between China and France, and I’m sure it will cause a sensation in Shanghai.”
From top: A painting named “Napoléon Bonaparte Crossing the Alps by Great Saint Bernard Pass” is displayed at the exhibition; A statue of Napoléon Bonaparte on display; Visitors walk through an interactive media device which creates a sense of time-travel at the exhibition.