Josephine and Napoleon, an (extra)ordinary history


Title in French: Joséphine et Napoléon, une histoire (extra)ordinaire

Josephine and Napoleon were brought together by destiny, and hand in hand they made it to the very top, donning the imperial purple. Indeed, their rise was as rapid as it was dazzling. Perhaps even more remarkable was the fact that the throne and politics in no way altered their feelings for each other. Josephine and Napoleon were to remain deeply in love with each other, even amidst the power politics. And yet, for all their grandeur, the imperial couple never lost their simple humanity. Their two lives were surprisingly synchronised, even experiencing exile and death at the same age. Josephine and Napoleon were not only both born on islands – they were both deeply jealous and at the same time mystical. Ultimately, they were very similar: Napoleon found his alter-ego in Josephine.

The extraordinary story of Josephine and Napoleon has survived the centuries and continues to move us. In 2021 the Maison Chaumet opened its doors to the public for a unique exhibition in celebration of Josephine. They showcased more than 150 objects, from the intimate to the pomp of state, of which nearly a third had never been on show to the public before. The founder of Maison Chaumet, Marie-Etienne Nitot, was not only an eye-witness to this story but also an important figure in his own right. Nitot’s talent as a jeweller made Napoleon’s majesty shine more brightly. Jewellery is all about preservation and transmission, and here the eternity of the precious stone meets the perpetuity of feelings. Chaumet jewellery is also the precious token of a family memory, of love and sentiment. It is in fact not only a memory and hence a transmission, but above all the sign of a future, the promise of new chapters, whilst at the same the most magnificent of legacies.

The Fondation Napoléon loaned 39 works for this exhibition. These included the pair of shoes that belonged to Josephine (Par. 97), the Egyptian Chocolate Service (Inv. N°. 791), Josephine’s Correspondence Cache (Inv. N°. 50), Josephine’s malachite parure by Nitot (Inv. N°. 973) and the spindle-shaped vase with Napoleon’s portrait (Inv. N°. 1165).

This exhibition was part of the “2021 Année Napoléon” label.

Location: The Historic Salons of the Maison Chaumet, Paris
Dates: 8 May-18 July 2021
Curator: Pierre Branda
Set designer: Olisphère
Attendance: 12,500 visitors