The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Napoléon III

Napoléon III

A carte-de-visite portrait of Emperor Napoléon III (1808-1873).

Legend has it that photography is indebted to Napoléon III for the success of the carte-de-visite and the ‘Cartomania’ of the 1860s. Patented by Disdéri in 1854, the craze supposedly didn't take off until the Emperor, leading his army to war in Italy, made an impromptual stop in order to have his portrait taken in the new format at Disdéri's studio on the Boulevard des Italiens.

Unfortunately, the story is apocryphal. Research has shown that the French army did not pass down the Boulevard des Italiens on its way to the war, and furthermore, that it left Paris late in the evening when there was not enough natural light for any photographer to operate.

Photographed by Disdéri of Paris.

Disdéri here imbues the figure of Napoléon with the mystery and intellect of a Rembrandt scholar. The pose and placement of props are reminiscent of portraits of the first Napoléon by Ingrès and David. This Emperor, however, appears not in the flowing robes nor in the military uniform in which he was often portrayed as the commander of his troops, but in a plain black frockcoat, the omnipresent and classless uniform of the Second Empire male.


Code: 124094
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