The Emperor Napoleon in His Study

The Emperor Napoleon / David

David presents Napoleon as a legislator working tirelessly on behalf of the nation. Dressed in his foot grenadier uniform, the leader rises from his desk to greet his troops after a night of labor. The pre-dawn hour is indicated by the burnt-down candles and the clock reading 4:13 a.m. Pages from the Napoleonic Code sprawl across the desk, reminding us of Napoleon's great legal achievement.

This painting was made for the Marquess of Douglas, a Scottish lord who admired Napoleon. Freed from the restrictions of official portraiture, David depicts the aging body of the emperor realistically, showing his bulging middle and receding hairline.

David was proud of this painting and boasted to Lord Douglas that no other portraitist of Napoleon had been able to capture so well "that air of benevolence, composure and penetration that never forsakes him."

Listen to a discussion of this image.