Napolean shares his treasures at the Muzeo

In Art

By Jeanette Castaneda
For the Daily Titan

A French collector brings his personal collection of over 250 framed paintings, prints and documents, as well as furniture from the Imperial palaces of Napoleon I for a three month stay at the Muzeo Museum in Anaheim. The exhibition titled, “Treasures of Napoleon,” opened on Oct. 11 and it marks the first time that these rare possessions have been brought to America.

Collector Pierre-Jean Chalencon’s fascination with Napoleon Bonaparte began when he was 8 years old. According to a museum pamphlet, his parents gave him an educational book on Napoleon and after that he asked that they take him to Malmaison, the army museum in Paris, that is where his fascination grew much stronger.

“Seeing the things did the rest. That’s where my passion for all things Napoleonic comes from. But I never once thought that I would end up collecting like I do today,” Chalencon said in an interview with Napoleon.org, a history Web site on the foundation of Napoleon I. Chalencon is a Napoleon scholar, university lecturer and collector.

His collection is now on display for all of Orange County to see. The Muzeo Museum in Anaheim has amassed the extensive collection through Jan. 8, and is the largest exhibit the museum has held since its opening in 2007. “Treasures of Napoleon,” features such artifacts as the gilded bronze sword used to proclaim Napoleon as Emperor and the cushion for his crown used during the ceremony.

The exhibit presents many extraordinary items from the Napoleonic empire such as an original manuscript of the coup d’état which led to his victory as First Consul of The Republic, a valise that was brought to him carrying the signed Louisiana Purchase documents from America, account books of the palace expenses, a collection of stationary used while the Emperor was in exile, clothing that was worn soon before his death and the first will he wrote while he was at St. Helena.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica to Italian parents. Not born of French decent, he changed his name to the French-sounding Napoleon Bonaparte soon after attending military school where afterward he became a successful solider and military officer in France.

Through aggressive campaigning, he conquered Italy by age 26 and altered the landscape of politics in Europe. By 1799, he became First Consul of the Republic after seizing power in the coup d’état. Five years later, he proclaimed himself emperor of the French. Although considered to be a tyrant to his opponents, he is revered for his establishment of the Napoleonic code which outlined the judicial and administrative foundation for Western Europe.

He helped minorities by granting land rights and was a supporter of the arts in France. In 1815, after his defeat at Waterloo, he was exiled to St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic. He died in 1852, at the age of 52.

“Treasures of Napoleon” features many items of interest that present a rich vision of Napoleon, the legend and the man. “Portrait of Napoleon in Coronation Robe” is an oil on canvas painting by Baron Francois Gerard and commissioned by Napoleon. The image features a proud Napoleon seated securely, as if on a throne, with his golden crown atop his regal head with a matching gold frame around the painting.

The collection also displays several marble busts of Napoleon by Antonio Canova. In the large visual sculpture the emperor holds the same stoic pose also shown in the two dimensional portraits displayed through the exhibit. The incredible collection is sure to bring a sense of admiration even for those who do not know much about Napoleon’s personal history.

“The reaction has been great,” said Ralph Velazquez, a museum volunteer for the event. “I’ve had visitors tell me that it might be better than the other museum (Malmaison) in France.”

When one walks around the exhibit, which is setup much like maze, it’s easy to pick out which of the artifacts is your favorite. Many of the items illustrate the personal life of Napoleon and his first wife Josephine.

“This piece is my favorite,” said Antoinette Ramis, another museum volunteer. She was referring to a piece of tapestry fabric that was located in the palace given to Napoleon by his wife. It shows the initials N and J intertwined in the fabric. “You can see the initials at the bottom, in the center of the fabric tying the piece together.”

Both volunteers said that all the workers and volunteers were given a private tour of the exhibit by Chalencon himself prior to its opening reception. They also said that they learned about the artifacts more in detail coming directly from Chalencon.

“It’s an exciting culture and time period. It’s great to learn about his long military career and how he was as a person … charismatic and confident,” said Lauren Kotowski who works in the museum’s gift shop.

“Treasures of Napoleon” will be at the Muzeo museum through the end of the year. Discount coupons for admission to the museum are available in O.C. Weekly and the museum’s Web site. Visit Muzeo.org for details.

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