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Majesty and Mystery: Saving a Napoleonic Court Gown

  • FIDM Museum 919 S. Grand Street Los Angeles, CA 90015 (map)

From the FIDM Museum

After a distinguished military career and surprising coup d’état, Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was crowned Emperor of France in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, on December 2, 1804. Beside him at the coronation was his wife Marie-Joseph-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie de Beauharnais (1763-1814), whom he called "Joséphine." Emperor Napoléon’s reign lasted until 1815; together, he and Empress Josephine ushered in a remarkable new era of artistic expression. A strict dress code was mandated at royal court functions and the Empress was the ultimate arbiter of style. For formal occasions, ladies wore fashionable high-waist gowns and trains made from yards of French-produced silk satin, lace, velvet, and net with precious metal embroidery motifs that symbolized the rulers: bees, roses, and tulips, as seen in the florals here. The astonishingly rare Napoleonic court ensemble at the focus of this intimate exhibition was worn by a high-ranking member of the imperial circle – possibly even the Empress herself.