French depictions of Napoleon I's resurrection (1821-1848)
Alissa R. Adams
Univ. of Iowa, 2018
Despite the inherently multivalent nature of images of Napoleon Bonaparte created during the middle of the nineteenth century, scholars often employ only one lens to interpret them: the political context of the age in which they were created. In doing so, they effectively separate these images from the wider art historical narrative. A second—and equally fraught—effect of this tendency is the perpetuation of dominant assumptions that the popularity of his image was due to his status as a “Great Man.” This dissertation examines a subset of mid-century Napoleonic imagery that demonstrates the flawed nature of neglecting other approaches to interpreting these works: depictions of the Emperor’s resurrection.These images frequently portray the Emperor as an inherently democratic, republican, or Populist force that derives its power not from Napoleon’s identity, but from the creativity, commemorative work, or critical thinking of the audience and the French people. This dissertation closely examines these images in their artistic and cultural contexts, applying cultural art historical methodology and close iconographical analysis to works that are either absent from or marginalized in the art historical narrative. In doing so, it reveals Napoleonic resurrection imagery’s potential for commenting on changing social mores that privileged the cultural agency of the French people at mid-century.The underlying argument of this study is that Napoleon was a popular artistic subject not because of his status as a “Great Man,” but because of his endlessly mutable identity. This mutability facilitated the creation of new forms of art and knowledge while allowing the French people to reflect upon their place in the changing cultural and artistic milieu.By demonstrating that this admittedly narrow subset of Napoleonic representation is open to cultural analysis, this dissertation opens up new avenues of inquiry for scholars of the Napoleonic Revival.
The first chapter of this study is a largely theoretical examination of Napoleonic “ghosts”and their connection to the strained relationship between fine art and popular culture as well as the masses and “Great Men.”Chapter two analyzes several images in which academically trained artists use Christ-like Napoleonic imagery to engage with the rising cultural and creative agency of the lower classes. The third chapter examines the political implications of the Napoleonic Revival. However, unlike earlier studies, it does so through the lens of the ongoing conflict between cultural narratives passed down from a centralized authority and popular culture that challenges these narratives. In particular, it contrasts the July Monarchy regime’s marginalization of the “real”Napoleon with public enthusiasm for the image of his corpse. Finally, the dissertation considers Paul Delaroche’s Napoleonic series in the context of the shifting locus of artistic production during the period.