University Archives


Napoleon's Tomb at Les Invalides: Ledger Itemizing Expenses from First Phase of Construction, Ex-Nicholson Napoleon Collection

This ledger provides us with fascinating insights into the design and construction of the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) at Les Invalides in Paris. The difficult and costly project would take over 20 years to complete, but it remains one of the top tourist destinations in the City of Lights. Ex-Charles Hamilton Galleries (New York, New York); Ex-Doris Harris Autographs (Los Angeles, California). From the Nicholson Napoleon Collection.

Napoleon was buried on St. Helena in May 1821. In 1840, a movement began to return Napoleon's body to France. This event would later became known as the "retour des cendres," or, "return of the remains." Napoleon's body was repatriated and legislation authorizing funding of a new imperial tomb was approved in 1840, yet construction of his elaborate imperial tomb did not begin until 1843. The project took two decades to complete and cost over 4,000,000 francs. (During the interim, Napoleon's body was temporarily installed in the Chapel of Saint Jerome at Les Invalides.) On April 2, 1861, Napoleon's body was formal interred within the magnificent new monument under the dome at Les Invalides.

The ledger includes expenses incurred during the initial phase of tomb construction, ca. 1841-1847. It is comprised of 16 pages of hand-ruled sheets with hand-sewn binding, and is engrossed in black and violet ink in many different hands. A few blank pages are located at back. Missing front cover, and the binding at back has been reinforced. Light overall toning as well as isolated closed tears and folded corners, else very good to near fine. 10.125" x 12.5."

The ledger is entitled "Statement of the Use of Various Open Credits to the Minister of the Interior for the Construction of the Tomb of the Emperor Napoleon" and is organized both chronologically and by subject, with each page divided into five columns showing the name of the workman ("Entrepreneur"), the work site ("Destination"), a description of the work, the cost, and the running project total.

Some of the artistic highlights of Napoleon's tomb are described herein, including:

- The massive red quartzite sarcophagus on green granite base.

- Twelve monumental statues depicting Victory encircling the crypt.

- Ten bas-reliefs depicting Napoleon's achievements, ex. Napoleonic code, etc.

- The mosaic depicting the names of major military engagements.

Important artists who worked on the tomb are mentioned, such as:

- Louis Visconti (1791-1853)
Architect/designer of Napoleon's tomb

- James Pradier (1790-1852)
Sculpted the 12 Victory figures

- Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867)
Sculpted Napoleon's equestrian statue

- Pierre-Charles Simart (1806-1857)
Sculpted the 10 bas-relief sculptures along the esplanade

- Francisque Joseph Duret (1804-1865)
Sculpted two caryatids of old soldiers found at the tomb entrance

- Jules Elie Delaunay (1828-1891)
Traveled to Brittany to investigate the quality of local porphyry

The French, Italian, and Swiss architects, sculptors, artists, artisans, and laborers made preparatory models and drawings. Their expertise extended from architecture and sculpture, to painting, bronzework, enamel, mosaics, and gilding. Other expenses related to carpentry, plumbing, heating, glasswork, locksmithing and even obtaining paper supplies! Work was done in the crypt, under the dome, and on the esplanade; and to the altar, baldequin, and equestrian statue. Under "Diverse Expenses," traveling expenses to Brittany, Italy, Russia, and Finland to examine different types of stone are included. Sadly, there are also two entries relating to workmen fatalities on page 6 and page 9.


The lot is accompanied by:

1. Two and a half pages of notes in the hand of Charles Hamilton, world-renowned autograph collector, regarding artists mentioned in the ledger.

2. A catalogue description and invoice dated May 3, 1983 from Doris Harris Autographs recording the purchase of this item.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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