Drawing Patterns and Napoleonic Symbols

Term: 2 Year: 2013

During 2012, through their Art making, viewing and discussion, the nine to twelve year old children at Melbourne Montessori School were slowly introduced to the symbols of power used in portraits, architecture, décor, objects, clothing and military uniforms during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Some of the many Napoleonic quotes that the children analysed were:-

·                    I am the successor, not of Louis XVI, but of Charlemagne.

·                    Imagination rules the world!

·                    A picture is worth a thousand words.

The children learnt that by employing the imagery of the EAGLE grasping a thunderbolt in its talons, Napoleon referred to antiquity. The eagle was the emblem of the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar and the thunderbolt and eagle were associated with the greatest of all gods, Jupiter. They noted that the eagle was also a symbol that referenced the Carolingian dynasty as it was the emblem adopted by Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor in the 9th century. Napoleon therefore claimed to be the successor to these two great emperors.  The children also explored the repeated use of the image of the BEE which symbolised immortality and resurrection. They learnt that the 5th century Merovingian Kings used this Kingly symbol and that sculptures of bees were found in the grave of Childeric I, the father of Clovis, the first Christian king of the Franks. Napoleon associated his reign with these early sovereigns of France.  The children learnt that in the days after his coronation, Napoleon had an eagle placed at the top of the shaft of every flag in the Napoleonic army.

The children noted the shape, pose, patterning, and detailing of the Napoleonic eagle. They looked at images of actual eagles and discussed their strength, and other attributes. They practised drawing an eagle with its wings in the victorious upward position of the Napoleonic eagle. They drew the final version of their eagle, holding a thunderbolt, onto gold squares of paper taped together on the back. They looked closely at a Napoleonic eagle’s feather patterns and made a dictionary reference page of their own possible feather patterns using varying thicknesses of black permanent markers and gold and silver Posca paint pens. Each week, they slowly added in more sections of patterning – face, neck, wings, body, legs, eye, claws and talons. They were reminded that these were eagles that represented characteristics of power, strength, immortality, victory, etc., and that their eagles needed to be Imperial and Regal.

Once the eagles were completed to the children’s satisfaction, they focused on their drawings of bees. They were reminded that the bees symbolised immortality and resurrection, not sweetness and honey. Their bees needed to have presence.

Finally, the children carefully cut out their eagles, bees and the letter N and positioned their compositions on regal red cover paper and framed this on larger black cover paper.

The nine to twelve year old children of Melbourne Montessori School needed to be patient, diligent and had many creative decisions to make and problems to solve during the five weeks taken to complete this project. As Napoleon said, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide,” and most importantly, “Victory belongs to the most persevering!”

Jennie Schoenfeld
Art Specialist
Melbourne Montessori School
Suitable for levels 3 and 4