Like the rulers of antiquity he wished to emulate, Napoleon viewed coinage as a tool for propaganda. Special medals struck in honor of his achievements bolstered political support and served to disseminate strategic images of himself as a leader. The three medals displayed here demonstrate how Napoleon connected his reputation and France's future under his reign with ancient glory.
One commemorates his Italian campaigns: the obverse bears his profile that recalls those of emperors on Roman coins; the reverse depicts an idealized nude of the First Consul in the guise of Hercules lifting an allegorical representation of Italy to her feet. Another medal celebrates the Napoleon Museum—the short-lived display in the Louvre in Paris of the ancient sculptures he stole from Italy. Among the artworks featured in this tiny image is the monumental marble Laocoön group that was unearthed in Rome in 1506 and depicts a Trojan priest and his two sons being devoured by a serpent. The third medal depicts the profiles of Napoleon and Charlemagne, the early ninth-century Roman emperor who is named in David's Bonaparte Crossing the Alps.
Bequest of Dr. Marion Reilly
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Medal. Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Dr. Marion Reilly, 29.190.11. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 29.190.11_front_PS11.jpg)
front, 29.190.11_front_PS11.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2019
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