Skip to Content

Audio Stop 662

00:00 00:00
A man with pale peach skin and dark hair wears a military uniform and stands in front of a desk in this vertical portrait. He nearly fills the composition so seems close to us, and he looks directly at us. His body is angled slightly to our left and he tucks his right hand, on our left, flat against his chest between the buttons of his jacket. His navy-blue waistcoat is white along the front where is seems to be turned back and fastened with brass buttons along his chest. The jacket has red cuffs, gold epaulets on the shoulders, and three medals affixed to the chest. White britches end just below the knee and white stockings covering his calves are wrinkled at the ankle above black shoes with brass buckles. A candle burns low in a lamp on an ornately carved and gilded desk behind the man. Books and papers are piled on the desk to our right. More papers and a thin ceremonial sword rest on a chair in front of the desk to our right. The chair is also carved and gilded, and is upholstered with scarlet fabric decorated with bees. The legs of the chair kick up the forest green carpet underfoot. A tall clock stands on the wall opposite us and reads 4:13. A few capital letters are written on a scroll of paper on the chair, “COD.” The artist’s name is also written as if printed on a scroll of paper on the floor behind the desk to our left: “LVD.CI.DAVID OPVS 1812.”

Jacques-Louis David

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812

West Building, Main Floor - Gallery 56

In this imposing portrait, the French emperor Napoleon is shown dressed in his military uniform and standing in front of his desk, upon which rests a copy of the Napoleonic Code. Behind him, the quill pen and papers that are spread haphazardly across the desk, a nearly extinguished candle, and the clock on the wall that reads 4:13 a.m. suggest that he has spent the night composing the new legal code. By underscoring Napoleon’s military prowess, his administrative skill, and his dedication to the well-being of his subjects, Jacques-Louis David created a potent image of imperial power.

West Building Tour: Featured Selections