1,358 Portraits of an Iconic Ruler—Now Searchable Online
When librarians at the New York Public Library assembled a vast portrait image collection in the early part of the 20th century, they incorporated some 1,358 images of or closely related to the French emperor, military and political ruler Napoleon Bonaparte, known as Napoleon I (1769-1821). The portrait collection they amassed, Historical and Public Figures: A General Portrait File to the 1920s, or simply the “Portrait File,” is part of the Prints Collection of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs. It is currently being made available to researchers at the Library’s Digital Gallery.
To aid online research, the images of Napoleon I from the Portrait File are organized into 58 discrete categories (click on any one for a display of all the items in the group). These include Napoleon as a young officer, as an emperor in uniform, as an emperor in imperial robes, on horseback, as Roman emperor, his proclamation as emperor and coronation 1804-1805, his wives Josephine and Marie-Louise, and medals and caricatures. There are separate categories also for Napoleon’s various campaigns and battles, and for portraits of him after various artists.
Under the category Napoleon in his study, after painting by Jacques-Louis David, researchers will find 59 images that are all apparent variations on the 1812 painting by David, The Emperor in his Study at the Tuleries. The painting, which depicts Napoleon standing in his study in Sunday military dress with his right hand inserted inside his breast coat pocket, reappears here as bust and full-length format portrait prints, as in the image at left, and even as an advertisement for a shaving product. To learn about the key paintings of Napoleon I, see Napoleon.org.
The 45 images arranged under Napoleon In imperial robes show him invested in the garb that symbolized his imperial rule. In many of these images, he is portrayed draped in ermine lined robes, holding a scepter topped with an eagle, and crowned with a laurel wreath. He is also shown wearing a richly brocaded outfit to befit a king featuring breeches, a cape, a silk sash, and a draped hat trimmed with feathers. You can learn more about the symbols of Napoleon’s empire at Napoleon.org.
Researchers will also find 26 images depicting Napoleon on the island of Saint Helena, where he spent the last six years of his life as a captive in exile. In contrast to the regal stance of his imperial images, Napoleon I is portrayed in several of these works as a pensive, solitary figure in military uniform, standing on a rocky cliff and staring out to sea, as in this example at right:
New opportunities to organize, explore, interpret and analyze portrait image collections are created in the online environment. I hope this tour of the Portrait File's collection of Napoleon images will encourage you to access this potential.
Researchers may also be interested in: The NYPL Empire and Regency Styles Research Guide, compiled by Paula A. Baxter. The Napoleonic Period Collection at the University Libraries University of Washington Digital Collections.