Napoleon II and the Cinco de Mayo

by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon’s painting The Sleeping King of Rome can be seen at Louvre-Lance. That is where I saw it six or seven years ago. The painting was originally presented at the Salon in 1811. As the official drawing instructor of Her Majesty the Empress Marie-Louise, Prud’hon had an opportunity to paint the future Napoleon II — the child officially bore the Imperial title for only a couple of weeks, succeeding his father right after the abdication and prior to the restoration of the Bourbons to the throne. The baby’s title, the King of Rome, was there to remind the detained at Fontainebleau Pope VII that Rome was but one of the cities of Napoleon’s Empire. It doesn’t help general public that in the annals of history the boy is more commonly referred to as the Duke of Reichstadt, that title was given to him by his maternal grandfather, the Emperor of Austria.     

Let us take a quick look at the pastoral setting of the picture, it was probably chosen as a reference to the pastoral childhood of the founder of Rome, Romulus; the purple blanket covering the baby’s lower extremities works both as an Imperial cloak and a French national color — add the white cushion and blue drapery and you have a flag. The two flowers, Fritillaria imperialis  a.k.a. the Imperial Crowns, represent the boy’s parents, Napoleon and Marie-Louise of Austria; the inclined flowers also anticipate a later Romantic development of the theme of an affectionate royal parent — it’s not that Napoleon wouldn’t be affectionate with his son, but the circumstances of Russian campaign and the following in its wake heroic attempts to stop the advancing coalition armies left little time for parenting. As for the motherly love, that one consistently left to be desired and so by default greatly contributed to the later Romantic cult of the French prince in exile.

We can say that the story of Duke of Reichstadt serves as a shadow to the Great pyramid — it would be a sure guess that the thought of the son inheriting some of his father’s qualities sent waves of shiver down many a royal spine. In the end, the pyramid’s shadow turned out to be pretty short: in the prince’s own words, nothing remarkable happened besides his birth and early demise, “Between my cradle and my death bed,there is nothing to report, zero.” Were this truly so, no great quantities of Tékaté and Corona beer would be consumed on May 5th in the US. The purpose of this entry is to remind everyone whose defeat we celebrate. The thing is that Ferdinand-Maximilian, whose execution promptly followed the French military fiasco south of the imaginary wall, yes, the unfortunate Emperor of Mexico, was an illegitimate son of the baby boy in the picture. And now I would like to convey to everyone reading this my seasonal greetings, as well as happy Cinco de Mayo to all those who may celebrate the event later in 2020.







About versaillesgossip, before and after Francis Ponge

The author of the blogs Versailles Gossip and Before and After Francis Ponge, Vadim Bystritski lives and teaches in Brest France. The the three main themes of his literary endeavours are humor, the French Prose Poetry, the French XVII and XVIII Century Art and History. His writings and occasionally art has been published in a number of ezines (Eratio, Out of Nothing, Scars TV, etc). He also contributes to Pinterest where he comments on the artifiacts from the Louvre and other collections. Some of his shorter texts are in Spanish, Russian and French.
This entry was posted in Louvre, Napoleon, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Napoleon II and the Cinco de Mayo

  1. trompehalf says:

    Emperor of Mexico, was an illegitimate son of the baby boy in the picture. Huh? You must be kidding. Any proof?

    • That was what Napoleon III believed and it was the reason why Napoleon III hand-picked Maximilien for the mission. The young man had made a brilliant career in the Austrian navy, but turned out to be politically inapt — a European transplant of liberal persuasion and of an imaginative turn of mind, he did not adapt well to a very conservative political base for which he was intended in Mexico. Napoleon III quickly get weary of his protege and withdrew the French support. The irony is that none of Napoleon’s progeny have proven themselves on the battlefield. As to the liaison of Duke of Reichstadt and the Archduchess Sofie, there we cannot go any further than rumors. Napoleon III however was convinced of the fact that Ferdinand-Maximilian was a grandson of Napoleon and a family.

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