Even before the Revolution, David had painted large-scale works that were intended to engage the public emotionally and intellectually as well as visually. During the Empire (1804–15) he worked on three enormous paintings: two represented key moments in the consolidation of Napoleon's power, and were commissioned by the Emperor; the third was drawn from the history of ancient Greece and was produced at the artist's own expense. In painting these gigantic canvases, far too large to travel to this exhibition, David relied on the assistance of pupils, a time-honored distribution of labor that was standard practice in the studios of such artists as Raphael and Rubens. He designed the paintings according to academic procedure, making numerous figure drawings, oil studies, and composition sketches. Examples of these preparatory works are shown here.
This oil sketch, painted in David's studio, shows the head of one of Josephine's ladies-in-waiting and the hand of Napoleon's stepson. David claimed that when he was painting the coronation "everyone rushed to come and model for their portrait in my picture." Whether this was true in this case or whether David based his study on a portrait of Madame de La Rochefoucauld is difficult to determine.