What did Napoleon look like? There are hundreds of painted portraits, etchings, sculptures, busts, drawings, figures, and caricatures. But what did he really look like? Most of the portrayals (even some of the of most famous) were not made while Napoleon was alive. Others were made for propaganda reasons and heavily censored. Did any contemporary artist have both the nerve to ignore censorship and the audacious talent to be not accurate but revealing? Napoleon’s painters were an impressive lot: David, Ingres, Gros, Gérard all painted famous portraits, yet confusingly different.
Worse, the first-hand accounts of his apparence and features are equally mystifying, some polished tributes to the man, others no better than slander. I found this wonderful little collection of quotes compiled by Tom Holmberg. The accounts come from different times of Napoleon’s life, from people who saw a schoolboy or an emperor, a fiasco or sphinx, a conqueror or corruptor. Ultimately, all we see is the legend.