Sèvres Porcelain and the Articulation of Imperial Identity in Napoleonic France
From its inception in 1756, the Sèvres porcelain manufactory made elaborate, highly decorated dinner services for the exclusive use of the royal court. The objects used by the king were seen as extensions of his body and the act of decorating them became a means of royal veneration. While the French Revolution saw the decline of the manufacture, Napoléon recognized the enormous political value of Sèvres porcelain. Imperial power, however, was predicated not on the divinity of the Emperor, but on the clear demonstration of the material and cultural benefits brought about by his administration. This shift in the nature of executive power prompted a change in the design and decoration of Sèvres porcelain. Rococo decoration found in ancien régime porcelain was abandoned in favour of a highly didactic imagery that charted the triumphs and benefits of Napoleon's regime. This article sets out to examine this new repertoire of subjects and forms with specific reference to the Service de l'Empereur. Commissioned to be used at the wedding of Napoléon and his second wife Marie-Louise of Austria (daughter of the recently defeated Emperor of Austria), the service charts some of the events connected with French Imperial expansion, not least of which was the marriage itself.