FONTAINEBLEAU, France — Private collectors have a rare opportunity this week to buy some of Napoleon Bonaparte’s DNA when a blood-stained cloth placed over his body during an autopsy goes on sale at an auction to mark the 200th anniversary of his death.
The former French emperor died on May 5, 1821, aged 51, on the southern Atlantic Ocean island of Saint Helena, where he had been banished by the British following his defeat in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo.
Around 360 objects in total will be put on sale by auction house Osenat on May 5, with other highlights including a lock of Napoleon’s hair, a pair of his silk stockings and a long-sleeved shirt embroidered with the letter ‘N’ in red stitching.
The blood-stained cloth is estimated to fetch up to $18,000.
It comes with a note written in 1875 by the Duke of Bassano, whose father was gifted the bandage by the marquis of Montholon, a military general who followed Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena and stayed there until the emperor’s death.
“In this bloodstain you have the emperor’s DNA. You cannot get more intimate than that,” auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat told Reuters.
Many of the artifacts on sale were brought back from Longwood House, Napoleon’s final residence, a musty-smelling house on the windswept, rat-infested island.
The collection also includes an ornate plate Napoleon used to dine off and a crystal goblet, as well as items of clothing.
“Napoleon owned a considerable number of shirts,” said Osenat. “He was obsessed with cleanliness to the extreme. He took three to four baths a day, got through 20 to 30 liters a month of cologne and was always changing his shirts.” His attire was part of a carefully crafted image. Napoleon and his ‘bicorne’ hats are indelibly linked in the public imagination.
In the early 19th century, such hats were worn with the corners pointing front and back, but Napoleon changed the angle to make himself noticed, said Jean-Christophe Chataignier, director of the auction house’s Empire department.
“Napoloeon wanted to create a look,” said Chataignier.