256 pages, Vendome Press, ISBN-13: 978-0865652330
Napoleon: The Immortal Emperor by Gerard Gengembre, David Chanteranne and Pierre-Jean Chalencon is a sumptuous exploration of the life and legacy of the first Emperor of the French. This is not a conventional biography (of which there are many) but rather a thematic exploration of Napoleon through images with explanatory text. While I lost whatever boyhood infatuation I had with Napoleon and learned to view him in the context of the terrible costs inflicted on Europe and the French nation in his long wars of conquest, an epoch was named for him and the arts reflected the glory he achieved. Even the decorative arts were inspired by his conquest and “Empire Style” with echoes of the Near East he conquered was born. Napoleon lived at a time when France was the artistic capital of the world and artists like Jacques Louis David, Baron Gros and Anne-Louise Girodet immortalized him. After his death, in a nation that never again stood astride Europe in the same way, the cult of Bonaparte lived on. Later over the course of the 19th Century, the great military artists of France – Ernst Messionier and Edouard Detaille – continued to paint Napoleon and his soldiers. When his nephew, Napoleon III, was the French autocrat, the Empire style was revived and paintings of Napoleon’s days of glory were purchased for the state. Finally, in the 20th Century he became the subject for countless films and this legacy is given the same visual exploration in the volume.