Secrets of the statue of Napoleon at Les Invalides

Enter in the historic Hôtel des Invalides in the 7th arrondissement of Paris and head to the main courtyard. Standing on the upper level opposite the entrance to the main courtyard, the French emperor is watching you. In this post, I’d like to share with you some little secrets of the statue of Napoleon I recently discovered…

The statue of Napoleon I at Les Invalides The statue of Napoleon Bonaparte overlooks the inner courtyard (Cour d’Honneur) of the Les Invalides opposite the main entrance. You can’t miss the bronze statue on the upper floor in a large arcade, above the portal of the soldiers’ church. The French emperor looks out across the courtyard to the direction of the Seine, underneath the gilded dome of the Invalides church.

The statue was sculpted by Charles Emile Seurre in 1833 to be placed on top of the Vendôme Column at the centre of place Vendôme. The July Monarchy commissioned Seurre to depict Napoleon I as “Petit Caporal“, dressed with a frock-coat and wearing a cocked-hat. (Seurre [1798-1858] is best known for his series of statues of ‘Great Men’ of France: Napoleon, Saint-Louis, Charles VII…). The statue was inaugurated on top of the Vendôme Column on the 28th July 1833 in the presence of king Louis-Philippe. The statue made from the cannons of France’s ennemies The 4 metre tall statue weighs 5 tonnes. It was made from Austrian and Russian cannons seized during Napoleon’s campaign in 1805 and stored in the arsenal of Metz. Another statue of Napoleon for the place Vendôme Bonaparte’s nephew, Napoleon III ordered a new statue to replace the “Petit Caporal” on top of the Vendôme column. The Emperor wanted the new statue to represent his uncle dressed as Caesar and wearing a laurel wreath. The statue in La Défense, in the bottom of the Seine and on an island! The statue found a new home at the centre of the Rond-Point de Courbevoie (today in the middle of La Défense). During the French-Prussian war in 1870, the statue was dumped in the Seine at the Pont de Neuilly. It is unclear if the French authorities wanted to prevent the statue from being caught or damaged by the Prussian army. Maybe the barge spilled its load accidentally in the water… or was it the act of vandalism from anti-bonapartists followers? Anyhow, the statue was left in the bottom of the Seine for four months before being pulled from the sea. Napoleon was stored at the marble depot on the Île des Cygnes (where the Statue of Liberty now stands!). In 1911 General Niox, governor of Les Invalides, had the statue transferred to its present-day site.
Between July 2014 and March 2015 the statue underwent a total restoration. It really needed it as the statue had not been maintained for 104 years!

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