Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Bee - "Beelonging" To Napoleon

There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to the Napoleonic bee.
The bee is either representational of previous royalty and therefore a very good and industrious symbol which Napoleon chose.
"When Napoleon moved into the Royal Palace at Tuileries he refused to spend money on new decor. However, he could not allow the drapery - with its embroidered fleur-de-lis (the French Royal emblem) - to continue to hang in the windows of the palace. His solution was to have the rich and elegant drapes turned upside down. The inverted symbol of the overthrown monarchy looked like a bee. From then on, the tenacious bee became the emblem of Napoleon Bonaparte. " I honestly don't know which is right....I'm the amateur historian. They both sound like Napoleon.

But I do know this.
I have had a thing about bees since elementary school. I won several prizes and advanced to a citywide science fair competition with my project on the honeybee. I think I just liked the whole concept of a Queen always being in charge. But I digress.I have photographed the Coronation robes several times hoping to catch my own copy of the golden bees. The artist David managed to paint the embroidery beautifully. I know he had the robes in his studio for months. From a distance, you see the bees. Up close…the blur makes you wish the camera was invented during Napoleon's life time.

So. I love the bee. I love Napoleon. I should be happy to have seen the painting up close and personal so many times. I just always wondered about the robe. Where is it? Did he wear it again to wedding number two? Was it cut down to look slightly different? These are the thoughts that go through my mind.
So you can imagine my surprise to get an email from someone saying they have a beeand did I want to pop by his website for a look?
My first thought was who's pulling my leg now? He's got a bee. Sure. And I have a lock of Nappy's hair.
My second though. Why don't I have a bee?
So off I go to check out I have a moment. No harm in looking.

Sweet mother of pearl.
And so began my email correspondence with my new best Napoleon friend Ken. So this week I asked Ken about the bee and this is what he shared with me:

The Bee!!! Well there’s a little bit of a story….
I first heard about it when a friend of mine, David Markham a writer of Napoleonic books, contacted me saying he had received an email asking if he could help identify an embroidered bee with document saying that it was from Napoleon’s coronation robes. David contacted me, as he knew I was a bit more of a collector than he is. When I saw the photo I knew straight away that the design conformed to the one used of the coronation robes, but everything I’d read and had been told stated that the robes had been completely destroyed in the 1820’s under the orders of Louis XVIII.
I started corresponding with the ‘seller’ only to find out he was a ‘stamp seller’ and had found it with a bunch of letters and documents from a closed legal firm. While dealing with him I also conducted a lot more research and corresponded with some contacts in France and to my surprise I found out that the embroidery had been removed from the robes and sold off by the pound in 1814!! So it all matched with the letter attached with the bee. After finding all that out I asked it the guy wanted to sell it and he did so I purchased it!
As for ‘other’ bees, this is the only one I have every seen…. and Bernard Chevallier, the curator at Malmaison told me he has not seen any others, but has heard rumors that some items do exist, but where he does not know.

So Ken has a bee.
And I have a picture of his bee.
I think I am okay with that.
(Although if it was mine it would be in a soldered glass case I would be wearing as a pendant.)


David said...

You seem like you'd either enjoy or become irate at the newest story about Napoleon on this site:

Shako said...

I hate Louis XVIII. And his forebears.
In fact, I hate all Bourbons who ever existed. They're all so evil. Napoleon was way better for France than all of them.

Anonymous said...

Napoleon required a symbol at once historical, secondly not connected in any way to existing royalty certainly not to the Bourbon monarchy, and not Christian in interpretation. The Merovingian bees perfectly satisfied his demands. Dating back to Childrec I, the pagan father of Christian Clovis who also was the first recognized “French” king, and thus possessing pagan inspiration, it was perfect. Further, by casting aside the Fleur de Leis, he disposed of a common symbol to royalty all over Europe and England, thereby directly attacking the symbolism of both the lily flower which the bee exploits and consumes while undermining the underlying Christian meaning as Mary, the mother of Jesus. Busy as a bee is good but only deserves a C-.

pollyh said...

Bear in mind that Napoleon was wildly popular and as with any celebrity, accumulated huge following among the fashionable and inspired a frenzy for everything he liked, of course! So there were bees everywhere... embroidered, carved, painted, etc. That photo of the beaded bed sewn on fabric was very commonplace, stylish. Like football fans today wearing their ridiculous jerseys of their favorite team, all of French society wanted bees everywhere to show their support for the Empire... on their clothes, their fabrics, their homes, etc.

Ian said...

Hi, Just to let you know that when my wife and I were walking through France last year we started our walk in Honfleur where we met the local parish priest. In his Presbytere he has a set of glasses with the bee (or possibly wasp) emblem on them that he explained were made for the Emperor's visit to the town. They are very charming items kept in a rather fine old wood paneled room which contains a range of other odd and interesting things. If my notes are right it is at 13 Rue Capucins, 14600 Honfleur, France +33 2 31 89 11 83. The Cure, Emmanuel Perrot wat a very charming host who may be able to tell you more.

South Coast Antiques & Gallery said...

Hello Carmi,
Great post! I am very excited to see the nice images of the bullion embroidered bees that you have posted on your blog. I was looking for some information on the Napoleonic Bee to link to my blog and I came across your post. I hope that you do not mind that I have liked to this post from my blog. I am a potter in Mississippi and I have just finished a small ceramic art pottery bowl that I call "Napoleon's Bee Bowl". Here is a link to my blog:
If you have any problems with my linking to your post please do not hesitate in letting me know and I will remove it.
Michael W. Moses

Carmi said...

Hello there! I am very happy to have you link to my post!