On the face of it – or him, actually – this might seem like an ordinary illustration, but if you take a better look you’ll find many peculiar details!
This satirical cartoon depicts none less than Napoleon Bonaparte and critisizes his violent acts of dictatorship. The original cartoon was made by the German Johann Michael Voltz to commemorate Napoleon’s crushing defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, and was based upon an portrait sketched by an artist named Heinrich Anton Dähling. Hidden within the sketch many deeper messages were put in; such as his black hat that – if you watch closely – actually is an eagle that represents Germany, gripping Napoleon’s head with its talons! Or his face that is actually composed with corpses, all killed by his doing, and his medal of the Legion of Honor is replaced with a spider in its web.
As the cartoon subsequently spread throughout Europe it was translated in many languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch. Even Though interpretation of its allegorical meaning varied between countries, the overall message tends to stay consistent.
This example is a Dutch version, accompanied with a poem explaining the portrait, published by Evert Maaskamp in Amsterdam, 1814.
Entitled ‘Peculiar Image of the Violent’, this is what the poem reads:
“The Prussion Eagles is the Hat who, clinging to it,
does not release its grasp of the head which it destines to fall.
The Corpses which are the proof of his ambition,
victimised by the hundred of thousands, are the features
of the face. The Collar represents the stream of Blood
with which the monster fed itself generously.
The Coat, a map, is marked at each place
with the loss of battles his pride never bargained for.
The dissolved Rhine Confederation trew over the reign of terror.
Even without the name of Ehrfurt, one can declare the Red Ribbon,
the brilliant badge of the Legion of Honour, nothing more that
a cobweb, the thread of which can easily be broken,
covers in a ridicilous matter the whole Rhenish alliance.
In the Apaulette is discovered the hand of the Almighty,
tearing up the web which enslaved Germany,
where he kills the spider, whose poisonous power,
spread over the world, taunts god no longer.
The Spider occupies the place of the absent heart.”