In 1811, Pierre‐Paul Prud'hon painted an allegorical portrait of the infant Napoleon II for Empress Marie‐Louise, Napoleon's second wife and the child's mother, that was exhibited publicly at the Paris Salon the following year. Prud'hon's painting is distinctive because it lacks conventional imperial attributes that characterized Napoleonic imagery at the time. On one level, the portrait can be understood according to Christian iconography or as an allegory of the new French order according to ancient Roman mythology. I argue, however, that Prud'hon subscribed to early nineteenth‐century Romantic ideals, freely interpreting traditional artistic conventions to show the unity between childhood innocence, women, and nature. This pictorial approach appealed to Marie‐Louise, who faced an increasingly unfavorable reputation in the wake of Napoleon's 1809 divorce and mounting public suspicion of the emperor's character. The empress utilized Prud'hon's romanticized image of her son to cast herself as the ideal Napoleonic woman and mother, thereby demonstrating her inherent virtue, reassuring the public of the empire's stability, and legitimizing her place at court on her own terms. Importantly, Prud'hon centralizes Marie‐Louise's position as the heir's protector to imply her imperial significance—a dynamic role for the consort in this painting that has remained unexplored until now.
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Research Article| September 01 2022
The Art of Imperial Maternity: Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, Empress Marie-Louise, and The King of Rome Sleeping
Eighteenth-Century Life (2022) 46 (3): 101–122.
Amanda Strasik; The Art of Imperial Maternity: Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, Empress Marie-Louise, and The King of Rome Sleeping. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 September 2022; 46 (3): 101–122. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-9955351
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