This post is very late in coming. The only excuses I can offer is that it is apparently much more difficult than I thought to get yourself into a productive writing routine after you have graduated and are no longer receiving grades for your work/crippling criticism/are now much more invested in your netflix schedule. But I digress.
Part three of our museum day took us to Paris to explore the reign of Napoleon. This exhibit is a collaboration between the Canadian Museum of History, Musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris, and Paris Musée, making it a very special treat for Canadian visitors who otherwise do not have the opportunity to be able to see European historical cultural objects such as what is on display at this exhibit, without actually getting on a plane set for France.
This exhibit begins chronologically, in which visitors walk through the space following a physical timeline, which is a manifestation of the theme, “[t]hrough fourteen key dates, explore the connection between Napoleon and Paris.”
The second part of the exhibit is more thematic, allowing visitors to understand the culture, politics, and philosophies guiding Napoleon throughout his reign. This was where I personally began to really get excited, because it was at this point that the aesthetics and design of the exhibit really became relevant.
Throughout the exhibit, the text describes Napoleon’s accomplishments and failures, and highlights the image which he cultivated for himself throughout his reign through his public monuments and statues, and the stylistic changes to clothing in court life, “[b]y reviving the pageantry of the fallen monarchy, Napoleon sought to put some distance between himself and his subjects. Around a core group composed of the members of the Imperial Family, he gathered a host of dignitaries. This luxurious way of life satisfied his taste for comfort, his desire for order, and his politics of splendor.”
Not only are visitors able to see this clearly in the artifacts on display, but they are also able to experience it for themselves, through the rich deep background colors of the exhibit walls, meant to look like wallpaper in some parts, and the sheer decadents of the clothing and everyday objects, emphasized by extra lighting which shone on the cases and made every reflective surface glitter. One of my favourite sections was the mock up of what Napoleon’s tent would have looked like when he was away fighting campaigns. As you stand taking in the display, a shadow outline of Napoleon appears in the corner, as if he is standing just outside of his tent at nightfall.
The exhibit also allowed visitors to consider the popular depictions of Napoleon in our own culture, an aspect which my public historian heart loves, “[t]ake a seat and see how some of the events linking Napoleon and Paris have been depicted on film. Napoleon is one of the historical figures most often portrayed on the screen. This presentation of excerpts from the recent mini-series by Canadian director Yves Simoneau features French actor Christian Clavier in the leading role. The excerpts reflect some key dates in the chronicle of Napoleon and Paris.” This is a splendid invitation.
Not only is the film excerpt itself a lovely reflection of the same combined efforts of Canadian and French talent that the exhibit it but, when paired with the exhibit, allows visitors to be critical not only of what they think they already know about Napoleon and Paris, but also about the way that he is depicted even today. It is also a wonderful opportunity to add motion and allows visitors to visualize a period which, because it seems so different from our own lives, may seem to many to be unreal, or difficult to imagine.
Another feature that I enjoyed was the large quotations from Napoleon that were integrated throughout the exhibit. Given that the theme of the exhibit was exploring Napoleon’s relationship to Paris, these quotes gave visitors insight into how Napoleon viewed that relationship himself, and acted as captions of those thoughts for visitors who prefer to move through exhibits more quickly, without reading the more in-depth text panels.
All in all, this was a wonderful exhibit that we enjoyed exploring a lot. It was so exciting to be able to see such fantastic artifacts that I would never have the chance to see otherwise (Napoleon’s hat! His HAT). The exhibit runs until January 8, 2017, so if you get a chance to check it out, then I definitely recommend it. For more information, check out the museum website here http://www.historymuseum.ca/napoleon/
As always, if you have seen this exhibit, please share your thoughts on it too!