Napoleon: Personality, Routine through Art history
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most fascinating personalities in world history.
His incredible rise and fall reads like fiction, from humble beginnings on the island of Corsica to the halls of power, to his exile, then to his retaking of power before being exiled again on the island of Saint Helena.
Napoleon seized power in a time of change. The French Revolution deposed King Louis XVI, turning the other monarchies in Europe against them.
"I have never made conquests except by defending myself. Europe has never stopped fighting France because of her principles." - says Napoleon.
Meanwhile inside the country, factional strife and violence caused political instability.
It was in this complicated context that the military savant Napoleon became the last hope for the people and the new Republic of France.
He ended up bringing nationalism and republicanism all around Europe — an influence that can still be seen today in the flags of the world, many of them based on France’s tricolor design.
But Napoleon ended up becoming an absolutist ruler, not so unlike the monarchy that the French Revolution had organized itself to end.
It seems that the very personality that allowed this strategic mastermind to take control and save the revolution was the same that led to its ultimate failure.
Let’s dive into that personality, while also taking time to see what Napoleon’s routine and lifestyle were like. In the end, we’ll have a much more intimate view of this incredible character in European history.
1- Napoleon’s ENTJ Personality : a Dominant Alpha
E : Napoleon was a quick thinker, good at multitasking and enjoyed working with many consultants & scientists and thinkers. He also enjoyed the company of his soldiers and remembered their faces and their names.
N : Napoleon was known to have premonitions, big visions and battle instincts.
T : He was definitely a logical thinker. Everything he did was premeditated.
J : Napoleon was very comfortable naming himself Emperor of France right after the French Revolution.
His entourage is made of Legal advisers, Lawyers, Generals, Noblemen, Scientists, Architects, Urbanologists, Religious leaders and Diplomats, he mostly paired with INTP and INFP men.
Although Napoleon was know to listen to his consultants, his personality was very dominant most of the times. In his work life, in his personal life, with women, Napoleon always know what to do, what to say and how to get men to do exactly what he wanted.
His absolute dominance is felt even in his Art and his Architecture, ordering the construction of monumental buildings that are still standing in Paris and huge battle paintings still hanging as the highlights of Versailles, the Louvre and Fontainebleau chateau.
However, if you want to reduce the "Conquerant of Europe" to four letters, yes, he must have been an ENTJ. But, I am not sure that this the right way to read Napoleon.
Napoleon Bonapart is truly a complicated and intresting figure of Human History. He believed in Humanism, in Enlightenment ideas (sometimes by imposing them on others). He believed in Meritocracy, in Science, in Peace. He outsmarted his enemies so many times with his smaller army that he reformed to make it more mobile, more elitist and more coordinated. I must say that Napoleon's personality evolved according to the environment : Napoleon is not the same man when he is in Paris, running the country, or during a battle, leading a charge with his men.
He also made many changes since his introverted childhood in Corsica to his extroverted glorious moments as an Emperor. He changed after his divorce, after losing the war. Until his demise, he was left alone, unwanted, desperate, isolated and exiled. Napoleon is like an onion. Even after many years of studies of his personality at the Sorbonne University, at the Louvre, in Fontainebleau, I still discover something new about him.
Many jokes have been made that Napoleon’s personality, particularly his character flaws, was all due to his short stature. But at five feet and seven inches, he was fairly average for his time.
No, the “Napoleon Complex” had nothing to do with his height. It was a mixture of his class background, stubborn narcissism, and prudishness that led to his unique leadership and history-making personality.
He grew up on the island of Corsica. It had just been annexed by France, and the culture there had yet to take on the French customs and language. While his family had some claim to noble status, they did not have any money. They lived in a camped home and mainly spoke Corsican and Italian.
That meant that when little Napoleon went off to the French military academy at Brienne (something he did on a scholarship thanks to his voracious reading), he found himself at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Unable to speak French well and being from a poorer family made him an outcast.
This gave him a compelling look at the society he would one day go on to lead. He grew connections to the servants who worked at the academy, but he also strove to rise on his own. Throughout his youth, he struggled to become as close to a true French nobleman as he could.
2- Napoleon and Meritocracy
He was, in his own way, an example of the rising meritocracy that would go on to change Europe forever. That meritocratic spirit was born of a deeply felt sense of his own class inferiority, and a drive to make himself worthy of greatness.
That spirit and drive found a perfect home after the French Revolution, which began right as Napoleon was turning 20. In those formative years of young adulthood, he found himself in a country suddenly loose from the stultifying feudal relations.
He went on to become an officer in the military, and were it not for the clearing of the feudal class system, he never would have gone on to become emperor of France.
3- Napoleon and Love
Despite his bluster and boldness, Napoleon was a prude. Sexual freedom followed the end of the Reign of Terror, and so this prudishness met a world that was entirely foreign to his sensibilities.
Though he eventually went on to marry Joséphine — whose father was executed in the Reign of Terror — her frequent and flagrant infidelity led to a nasty divorce and a grim, hateful view of women.
"I have always thought that woman was made for man, and man for country, family, glory, and honor." Napoleon - Letter - January 27, 1807
It is speculated that this experience with Joséphine led to the extreme misogyny in the emperor’s laws, the Code Napoléon, which placed extreme restrictions on the freedoms and rights women.
4- Napoleon’s Grandiosity
But perhaps Napoleon’s most notable personality trait of all, especially for the impact he played in history, was his grandiosity. This was a man who never missed an opportunity to lionize himself.
As a military leader, many of his conquests led to tremendous plundering. One of his most egregious thefts was from Egypt, where his 1798 adventure led to the robbing of obscene amounts of artifacts and riches. He also brought scholars to study the culture, a practice that went on to form the foundation of many modern sciences like anthropology.
His grandiosity no doubt reached its high point when he became the self-proclaimed emperor of France on May 18th, 1804. This effectively ended the Republic and replaced it with perhaps the first modern dictatorship in Europe.
As emperor, he kept a tight control of the press — unable to handle criticism. And he often spun a narrative of his own military exploits that differed rather widely from the truth. His thin skin and defensiveness might be signs of narcissism, though you can’t really diagnose historical figures.
5- Napoleon the Man
These elements of his personality come together to paint a complex portrait, something with more depth than simply blaming everything on his height.
What we see is an incredibly intelligent and politically capable man — said to be able to convince even the strongest rulers to his side of an issue. But his all-too human traits led him to become a tyrant.
While the “Great Man” theory isn’t a great way to view history, in Napoleon’s case, it tends to work quite well.
6- Napoleon’s Lifestyle
When you mix this unique personality with the role of an absolute ruler, you get one of the most fascinating lifestyles in history.
Even after reaching the top of politics in his country, Napoleon’s drive to achieve was not satisfied. His lifestyle, while certainly posh, always made room for long hours of work when necessary, and it was often interrupted by military conquests and travel to attend to matters of state. Nonetheless, when working at home, he kept a strict routine.
7- Napoleon’s extreme Morning Routine
Napoleon was considered "Workaholic". He eats fast to go back to work as soon as he can. He had a strict morning routine and a unique diet.
He was known to wake up many times at night to work and think.
"Often waking up several times a night without the clarity of his ideas being affected, on the contrary he appreciated the presence of mind after midnight", writes Chardigny
7 AM: Tea and reading the post and the reports by a warm fire as he hated being cold.
8 AM: Bathing, shaving, elaborate hygiene routine, and, dressing — sometimes lasting two hours.
10 AM: Receiving visitors. Sending orders to ambassadors and foreign representatives
11 AM: Brief lunch and coffee.
After this, he had time to fulfill all the many duties of being an emperor while also, no doubt, enjoying the wealth and privilege this title brings.
8- Napoleon in Paris
Paris is filled with landmarks that trace the history of Napoleon’s rise and reign. As the center of French politics and the main stage of the French Revolution, the ruler’s life in Paris is an integral part of his story.
Before establishing his empire, he was named First Consul under the Directory (a committee created to get a handle on the Reign of Terror). While in that position, he lived at the Tuileries Palace in Paris. It was from here that he brought the first semblance of stability and order to the city in years. And it was in this time that he liberalized the government’s attitude to religion, allowing churches to open their doors again.
Already keen on seizing power, he removed the elected Mayor of Paris, replacing them with his own hand picked leaders. He used this authority to get the city in order at any cost — an approach he would use throughout his life.
Once he became Emperor of France, Napoleon gave Paris some of its most famous landmarks, including the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Place Vendôme’s famous column.
He led improvement projects to the city’s sewer and water systems, its roads, and public spaces. Though his improvements were not as expansive as he wanted, Paris would never be the same.
The full renovation of the city would be completed by Napoleon’s grandson.
And in this beautiful city, Napoleon remains. It is in the golden-domed Les Invalides that Napoleon’s tomb can be visited today.
9- Napoleon in Fontainebleau
Located some 55.5 kilometers outside Paris, the Château de Fontainebleau became one of Napoleon’s homes the same year he became Emperor. He later had the palace completely renovated to host the Pope.
The move was seen as an opportunity to link him to the monarchs — a grand home with exquisite works of art and luxury beyond belief. But he remained a dedicated, hard working leader, spending most of his time in the study.
The palace houses some of the greatest treasures in the world, and it stands as an embodiment of the incredible rise and fall of Napoleon. While it is here that he sat in his famous throne room as Emperor of France, it is also here that he signed his abdication in 1814, ending his reign.
10- Napoleon Bonaparte as a Human
It is fascinating to see such a prominent figure as Napoleon from this inside view.
His blend of intelligence and personality, created out of his life experiences, made him the perfect character to seize power when he did. He left his mark across the country and Europe as a whole, and it is a history we can step into today.
If you are interested in mixing Art with Power, I can take you on a private tour in Paris or Napoleon in the Louvre and then in Versailles where you can see many paintings of him.
Art explains things better than words. My Art tour will show you closely how Napoleon used visual elements in Art to consolidate his Power.
We can also walk the storied streets that this emperor built, view the works of art he patronned, and see the city museums that played host to this incredible chapter in history.