This exhibition commemorates the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, which took place on June 21, 1815. The objects on display refer to particular moments in Napoleon’s career. The two larger medals depict events from the Revolution: the storming of the Bastille and the forced arrival of the King in Paris in 1789, which marked a decisive blow to his authority. A letter from Napoleon’s Marshal Jacques Etienne MacDonald describes planned troop movements and routes for the Battle of Austerlitz (1805), one of Napoleon’s greatest victories. An undated letter from Napoleon himself is included in the exhibition, along with an engraved image of his tomb on Saint Helena island. Napoleons’s body was brought to France in 1840.
The items on display are from the Frank W. Tober papers and the Marshals of Napoleon collection.
The career of Napoleon Bonaparte is often considered in terms of his obscure origins in Corsica, his “rise” to great power in France, and his fall. Indeed, his ascent to absolute power happened over the course of a few years, beginning in the 1790s. At first his military victories and political reforms were welcome in France, which was undergoing the bloody aftermath of the Revolution which had ended the monarchy. Later, his increasingly dictatorial regime bred dissent at home. Napoleon seized power in a coup d’état in 1793, and had himself crowned Emperor in 1804.
His military and political victories were numerous. Under his leadership, French armies managed to subjugate Spain, Italy and much of Germany. His defeat of Austria brought about the end of the Holy Roman Empire, which had been established in 800 AD. At the empire’s height (1810-1811) the national boundaries of France had been extended and the country was surrounded by vassal states. Napoleon suffered his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, at the hands of the English and Prussian armies. He was exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died in 1821.
J. Ponzo. Bust of Napoleon. France. Probably 19th century. Frank W. Tober papers. Gift of Frank W. Tober estate.
Bertrand Andrieu. Napoleonic medals: 1) Portrait of Empress Josephine. 2) Portrait of Emperor Napoleon. 3) The Siege of the Bastille. 4) The Arrival of the King in Paris. Medals ca. 1810. Frank W. Tober papers. Gift of Frank W. Tober estate.
Curated by Curtis Small