[FOUNTAIN]Many hoped to be ruler of united EuropeOne of the most overpowering masterpieces in the Musee du Louvre in Paris is “The Crowning of Napoleon.” The 979-meter-wide, 621-meter-long painting almost covers one side of a gallery, and each character featured in the painting is vivid and lively.
It took three years for Jacques-Louis David, one of the notable neoclassical painters of the 19th century, to reproduce the scene of the coronation of the Emperor Napoleon that was held in Notre Dame in 1804.
Interestingly, the painting does not depict Napoleon receiving the crown from the pope. Instead, Napoleon, who wears a laurel wreath crown, presents his wife, Empress Josephine, with her crown. The pope sits behind Napoleon Bonaparte. The laurel wreath, the traditional crown of Roman emperors, is a symbol of victory and peace. The pope’s attendance at the coronation is reminiscent of the enthronement of Charlemagne, the founder of the Holy Roman Empire.
The painting about the glory of modern France borrowed the symbolism of ancient Rome and the Holy Roman Empire in the medieval period. To the Europeans, Caesar and Charlemagne were the heroes who established a unified Europe. Napoleon Bonaparte’s dream was the unification of Europe. It was essentially a wish to revive the peace and prosperity of the Pax Romana.
Since the last days of Charlemagne, at times the ideal of a unified Europe has been used to justify horrendous acts. Germany’s Adolf Hitler firmly believed in the unification of Europe, and he wanted to be its all-powerful ruler. The words “Heil, Hitler!” accompanied with a raised right arm, is a variation of “Hail, Caesar!”
Similarly, when Hitler created a Schutzstaffel division in France, he named it “SS Charlemagne.”
Europeans who suffered under the delusion and violence that Hitler wrought found a peaceful unification measure after World War II. It was an economic approach.
The unification began with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. More than half a century later, Eastern and Western Europe have become one under the European Union.
Europeans have finally realized their dream and the vision of Caesar and Charlemagne. In spite of the numerous challenges, the unification is more precious for being obtained in a peaceful process.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.