Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the latter stages of the French Revolution and its associated wars in Europe (Howell 103). Below is a creative response to a portrait of the leader, dubbed Napoleon Bonaparte in his study (David 1).
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One day in 1812, as the Peninsular War and the Invasion of Russia were taking place, Napoleon Bonaparte summoned his official portrait painter Jacques-Louis David to his study. The French Army had been badly wounded in the two wars and Bonaparte could not think of a better way to calm his nerves than to spend a few hours getting his portrait done.
So, while waiting for David to arrive, Bonaparte went through his wardrobe looking for something to wear. This was a painting that would be around for hundreds of years and he wanted future generations to think of him as a stylish leader.
After rummaging through the racks of clothes, he picked out his favorite green breeches, white tights and a cream vest. On top of the vest, he pulled on a navy blue jacket and fixed the red cuffs in place. He thought of putting on a jabot as well but after some deliberation thought against the idea.
“I will be overdoing the attire,” he said to himself. However, he stuck a lapel pin on the left breast of the jacket, before stepping into a pair of black shoes. To add sparkle to the footwear, he fixed a set of golden buckles in place. “That’s about it,” he thought.
As he stepped out of the room, he noticed that the breeches were tight around the crotch. He wondered whether he had put on so much weight that he could not fit into clothes that he previously slipped into. In the 1800s, wearing clothes that exposed the outline of one’s private area was viewed as indecent.
Napoleon regarded himself a leader chosen by the people and would not dare let anyone see him in the green breeches, which left his genitals tracing a moderate lump between his thighs. He walked back to his closet, picked khaki breeches and pulled off the green one. He loved those green breeches and he swore to lose enough weight to fit into them.
He was just about to hang the breeches back in the closet, when he noticed that there was a big stain on the back-side of the left leg. Never had Napoleon been seen so angry. He yelled out the name of his laundry man-“Yoshua! Yoshua!
You better come out here Yoshua before I do something illegitimate! Unbeknown to him, Yoshua had been sent out with the rest of the army a day earlier, when Bonaparte decreed that all men aged 30 years and above had enough experience to help his forces win the wars.
“Remind me to kill him when he gets back. Nobody destroys Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite breeches and gets away with it,” he scoffed at the house maidens, who had answered to his call. “Get out! Get out! I do not want to see any of you here. The maidens scampered away, like mice, which had seen a cat.
Bonaparte sat on the edge of the bed, cooled down, and pulled on the khaki breeches he had laid out. His day had already been messed and he now wanted to get the painting over and done with. As he walked past the mirror, he noticed that some of his hairs were out of place.
To fix them, he dipped his fingers in the gel container on his table, rubbed it into his hair and eased the few front strands into a nice pile towards the front. He was now ready.
In the study, he had a brief chat with David, the talk centering on the political activities of the day and war going on afield. With the formalities over, Bonaparte assumed position at one corner, next to a reading chair. He wanted to appear relaxed without losing the powerful aura that always surrounded him in paintings.
“I want you to stand with your left leg slightly in front of the right one,” David instructed. “Turn sideways a bit and let your shoulders relax…Perfect.” Bonaparte still had an issue with having both his hands hang on his sides. He thought the pose made him look weak.
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“Try placing your right hand on your belly…maybe you should let your hand relax in the jacket a bit. Are you comfortable like that?” David continued. Bonaparte nodded in agreement. “Ok, now just look at me and try not to move,” said David.
The artist spent next one hour setting the base and the next three hours weaving in the details. He had done so many paintings before and he worked through this one with the skill of a master. There was no talking in the room- it was time for the artiste to visually interact with his subject and talking could lead to critical mistakes.
By the end of the third hour, Bonaparte, known for his impatience, asked to be released, forcing David to complete the painting from memory. Still, he managed to create a masterpiece, one which Bonaparte marveled at for one hour after he was called in to give his opinion. He would have stayed in the study longer, had a messenger not rushed in to inform him that they had lost more soldiers in Russia.
“50 of our newest dispatches have been felled,” said the messenger. “Which new dispatches?” asked Bonaparte. “The lot that included Yoshua, your laundryman,” answered the messenger. Bonaparte did not know whether to celebrate the fact that he would not have to kill the careless laundryman himself, or to mourn losing more soldiers.”
He had started the day not knowing what to make of the wars going on at the borders and he thought he needed to get his painting done to relax. Now here he was, clad in his finest gear and still clueless on how to handle the calamities that appeared to be approaching him from all possible directions. He dismissed the messenger then went to his room and removed the pieces of clothing on his body, one after another.
He placed the red cuffs in the specially-made cuff-holder he had imported from Brazil and then hung the navy-blue jacket and cream vest on their respective hangers. With only the white tights covering his nakedness, he entered his blankets and covered himself from head to toe. Perhaps what he needed to organize his thoughts was a good sleep- not getting his painting done.
David, Jacques. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) in his Study n.d. JPEG file. MyArtPrints.co.uk. Web. <https://www.myartprints.co.uk/a/jacques-louis-david/napoleon-bonaparte-1769-1.html>
Howell, Jon. Snapshots of Great Leadership, London: Routledge, 2012. Print.