This antique photo, taken sometime between 1890 and 1905, depicts the bedroom of Emperor Napoleon of France (Napoleon Bonaparte), in the palace called Grand Trianon, which is on the grounds of Versailles. Though I don’t know what the room looks like today I suspect it’s pretty similar, and probably at least resembles the way it looked when Napoleon lived here in the decades of the 1800s and first half of the 1810s. This is definitely “French Empire style,” which Napoleon made popular during this time in order to place his own personal imprint upon fashion, furnishings, art and cultural expression in the new post-Revolutionary France. However, the fact that it’s in Louis XIV’s old palace–and still represents, as you can see, the grand opulence of French royalty–this room also communicates a strong link to the traditional past of France.
Napoleon was a fascinating character, and lived at a fascinating time. Though he famously crowned himself Emperor in December 1804, he was in fact the living embodiment of the French Revolution, which located sovereignty in the people of France rather than its ruler. He was the avatar of the nation; before 1789, the people and the nation belonged to the ruler. Napoleon also tried to export his vision of statecraft and society all over Europe, resulting in the lengthy wars that turned the continent into a slaughterhouse between 1799 and 1815 when he was finally defeated. In between his battles, campaigns and prison sentences, Napoleon lived high on the hog as you can plainly see.
Grand Trianon was originally built in 1672 by the “Sun King” Louis XIV, and it’s called that to distinguish it from Petit Trianon, a smaller palace built by Louis XVI shortly before the Revolution. Here the French rulers lived in unimaginable opulence totally disconnected from the French people, the vast majority of whom were desperately poor. Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette famously lost their heads in the Revolution, but the palaces remained intact and Napoleon was more than ready to move in when he took over France in 1799. He lived here with his second wife, Marie Louise of Austria. When he was married to Josephine they preferred the palace of Malmaison, though to be honest they had a lot of palaces.