What role do objects play in ceremonies of power?
In every culture, there are objects and symbols that are associated with leadership. The prominence of these arts in investiture ceremonies around the world testifies to their ability to lend legitimacy to new rulers. Those in power, or hungry for it, are rarely unaware of the cultural and historical weight such objects carry. Napoleon took care to surround himself with the recognized signs of sovereignty when he declared himself emperor of France. In a spectacular coronation ceremony at Notre Dame in 1804, he appeared with not only crown and scepter, but also the hand of justice, the necklace of the Légion d’honneur, and the sword of Charlemagne. Any true leader of France would have to have this sword at his investiture, just as any king of the Luba would need a stool at his.
Questions to Consider
- In what ways are the sword of Charlemagne and the Luba stool similar in terms of meaning and tradition within their respective cultures? What does this suggest about the role of objects in the transfer and maintenance of power more universally?
- Consider the artistry involved in each of these items. To what degree does the form, content, or material of each piece imbue it with significance? What does this suggest to you about the values associated with leadership in each culture?
- The significance of objects used in ceremony is often established by tradition. In such cases, the capacity of the ceremonial object to communicate power is made greater by audience recognition of its particular historical and cultural resonance. What role do you think traditional knowledge played in the ceremonial efficacy of the two objects pictured here? Think of an object used in a ceremony practiced in your culture or community. What does that object mean to you?
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