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Portrait of Napoleon I, Emperor of the French

Portrait of Napoleon I, Emperor of the French

1841

William Essex

(British, 1784-1869)

Enamel on copper, gilt metal and plush mount in a turned wood frame

Framed: 13.5 x 11.5 cm (5 5/16 x 4 1/2 in.); Unframed: 6.6 x 5 cm (2 5/8 x 1 15/16 in.)

Gift of Mabel Porozynski in honor and remembrance of Eugene Porozynski 2000.106

Description

Unlike fragile portrait miniatures painted in watercolor on vellum or ivory, which are prone to cracking, fading, and flaking, enamels are resilient, impervious to the effects of light, and retain their striking original colors over time. Partly for this reason enamel was considered ideal for reproducing famous paintings and treasured portraits in a reduced and luminous form. The complicated and labor-intensive process of enameling required the artist to fire numerous layers of colored metal oxide at different temperatures. This process made it difficult to produce a faithful portrait likeness, though masters of the medium were able create portraits of remarkable subtlety imbued with the sitter's personality. The desire for portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte helped to create a market for miniatures that William Essex was fueling long after the emperor's death.

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