The Napoleon: Power and Splendor exhibition contains over 200 works of art, many of which have never been seen in the United States before. If you follow the activities in this guide, expect to spend at least 45 minutes in the exhibition. Let’s learn a little bit more about Napoleon before you enter the exhibition.
To download and print this guide, use the PDF version: Napoleon Exhibition: Family Visit Guide (PDF)
Once Napoleon became emperor, he needed to represent himself in a way that proclaimed his power and authority. Napoleon and his staff used artwork to show off and to expand his power; this exhibit explores art created for this reason.
To create and maintain this new image, the Imperial Household was established. With a staff of over 3,500 individuals, the Household was directed by six Grand Officers: the Grand Equerry, the Grand Master of the Hunt, the Grand Chaplain, the Grand Marshal of the Palace, the Grand Master of Ceremonies, and the Grand Chamberlain.
Napoleon: Power and Splendor is broken into eleven different rooms, including sections related to each of the six Grand Officers. As you visit the exhibition, you will meet these officers and see many works of art that helped shape Napoleon’s image.
Explore the art. When you visit the exhibition, take time to look carefully at a few works of art rather than walking quickly through each room.
Look together. Explore artworks in the galleries as a family and discuss what you see, think, and wonder.
Try an activity. Try some of the activities that follow to enjoy a more meaningful experience of the works of art. Activity prompt cards are also available in the stART Orientation Space in the WestRock Art Education Center.
Additional activities are also available on the VMFA Learn site.
Throughout the exhibition you will notice honey bees and eagles in paintings, on frames, and in various other places. Napoleon chose the bee as one of his symbols because they are considered powerful, hardworking, obedient, and were associated with immortality, or living forever.
Eagles were chosen because of their association with the Roman Empire where they were a symbol of Jupiter, king of the gods, as well as military victory. Napoleon wanted to associate himself with the powerful Roman Empire.
As you move throughout the exhibition, look for bees and eagles of various sizes in each room. How many can you find?
If you could choose a symbol for yourself, what would it be? Why? Would you have more than one?
Don’t read the wall panels or text just yet. Instead, use the clues around you to help determine what aspect of Napoleon’s household it represents (for example, one room features a dining table).
Look at the works of art in the room. Does it help you to decide what area of the Imperial Household you might be in? Once you have a guess, read the large wall text to see if you were right!
While it may be very tempting to sit on Napoleon’s throne, please be careful not to get too close to the art objects. If you hear a beeping sound, it means you’ve gotten too close. There will be a throne after you exit the exhibition that we encourage you to try out!
Sometimes artists create multiple works of art to tell a whole story. Sometimes they only show us part of a story, leaving the rest up to us and our imaginations.
Choose an artwork that seems to have a story. Examine the scene and then tell, or even sketch (pencils only) what you imagine might have occurred just before or after the moment the artist chose to represent.
Artists have reasons for posing the people in their artwork. Sometimes just by mimicking the poses, you can understand more about the art even before getting any additional information.
Do the following with a chosen work of figural art (a work of art that has a person in it):
Without looking at the label, study the gestures and body language of a figure you see. Carefully move your body and adjust your facial expression to match that of the figure. What does doing this tell you about what the figure may be thinking or feeling?
Now look at the label, and compare your ideas to what is there.
What makes sense? What is surprising?
What ideas of your own would you add if you could?
Find a work of art in the galleries you are drawn to and…
Look at the label and read the title of the work.
Imagine you had the power to give it a new title.
What would it be? Why?
Now take a closer look at the artwork. Can you rename it one more time?
Take a break. Sit in the museum’s sculpture garden or café to share a snack and think about the art you have seen today. Take time to reflect on what you noticed, felt, or thought and share your reflections with someone you came with or write down your own thoughts.
Search for more objects of power and splendor in the permanent galleries with the What Does Power Look Like? gallery hunt. Download it or pick up a printed copy at the exit of the exhibition.
Visit the Teaching Gallery and Explore Archaeology in the interactive exhibit Dig It! (on view through September 16, 2018)
Explore the rest of VMFA’s galleries using some of the activities you learned!