A Paris auction house is giving buyers a chance to step into history in a pair of boots thought to have belonged to former French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
The black leather riding boots are said to have been worn during Napoleon's final exile in Saint Helena, the South Atlantic island where he was forced to live after losing the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. They're expected to sell for upwards of 80,000 euros.
An iconic image
Auctioneer Alexandre Giquello admits that it's hard to conclusively verify whether the boots really belonged to the ousted leader. But they match descriptions of orders Napoleon placed with his shoemaker Jacques in the rue de Montmartre and were also owned by Napoleon's friend Henri-Gatien Bertrand after the emperor's death in 1821.
The boots were used as the model for a sculpture of Napoleon riding a horse intended for his tomb. They were then passed on to early-20th century French senator Paul le Roux, whose family has owned them ever since, the auction house claims.
Giquello says the "elements of provenance" correspond perfectly, despite the lack of historical documentation. And, he says, the sale offers potential buyers the chance to own an iconic piece of history:
"It's extraordinary to sell this type of item. We know very well that image of Napoleon throughout the world: the hat, the boots, and maybe the frock coat."
Assuming the boots did to belong to Napoleon, they put paid to the long-standing myth that Napoleon was particularly short, Giquello says:
"They are the equivalent of a modern size 40. We have this idea today that the emperor was a very short man but it's absolutely not true because he was 1.68 metres, which wasn't small at all for the time".
Giquello blames the misconception on propaganda from English newspapers that caricatured the French general as short and fat.