Napoleonic Period Collection

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The Plum pudding in danger
Detail from the Plum Pudding in Danger

This collection showcases 83 satirical prints, or caricatures, from the Napoleonic Period, all giving political commentary on events of the period. Fifty of the prints were created by French artists, and thirty-three by English artists. Nearly all of the French prints date from the last two years of Napoleon's reign, but the English prints represent a broader time period ranging from 1793 to 1815. The prints are primarily original etchings with other printing methods represented. Most of them have been hand-colored. The original collection is in good physical condition, although a few pieces have been trimmed to the edge of the plate impression or even the edge of the image.

The term caricature was first used in the 1600s, and has come to mean a humorous illustration that exaggerates or distorts the basic essence of a person to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. This can be done by exaggerating a salient feature, by interchanging animal or bird parts with human parts, or by using accepted symbols or imagery in unexpected ways. The prints in this collection represent the "golden age" of caricature, generally recognized as 1780 to 1830, when the great artists James Gillray (1756-1815), Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), and George Cruikshank (1792-1878) were working. All took on Napoleon as one of their subjects, so that he became the first universal figure in caricature.

Caricatures are meant to provoke a specific response, usually political, from the viewer. They are created for the amusement of people to whom the original person is well known, which explains why it is sometimes difficult for us, 200 years later, to decipher the humor in this collection. In the database, we have attempted to explain the historical context and plays on words/symbols that unlock the humor in the images themselves.

About the Database

This digital collection was created with JPEG 2000, which enables finely detailed items, such as etchings and prints, to be displayed in a higher quality, more usable online format. It allows viewers to see image details that would be difficult or impossible to see at lower resolutions. The material presented in this digital collection were scanned from original prints as TIFF files, manipulated in Adobe PhotoShop to achieve the best and clearest possible digital image and loaded into the Contentdm JPEG2000 software and linked with descriptive metadata.

Scanning, research and descriptive metadata was prepared by Chris Doerr and Kristin Kinsey in 2004-6. The materials in this database are from the Napoleon Collection held by the UW Libraries Special Collections Division.

Ability to zoom and pan for details in images.

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