A clandestine caricature of Napoleon III

A clandestine caricature of Napoleon III

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Title: Badinguet's crimes and follies

Creation date : 1871

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 16.7 - Width 25.1

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: CHAN. 176AP1

Badinguet's crimes and follies

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: May 2006


A clandestine caricature of Napoleon III


Historical context

Political cartoon and underground publishing

Ruined by a military defeat without appeal, the Second Empire died in the minds of the capitulation of Sedan on September 2, 1870. Despite the obstacles of censorship, political caricature became a weapon of combat which contributed, from 1866 in particular, to the political awakening of the population. In 1870, the siege of Paris then the Commune interrupted the publication of most of the newspapers in the capital. But violent sheets and series of outrageous lithographs are unleashed as soon as the censorship disappears, under the government of National Defense.

In reaction against these excesses, the law of July 8, 1871 re-established under the Republic the supervision of the press. They blame certain officials of the Empire who remained in place.

Brussels was a hub for underground publishing in the 19th century.e century. Under the Second Empire, French publishers in exile and Belgian publishers published the poems of Victor Hugo (The punishments, 1853) and Charles Baudelaire (Shipwrecks, 1866) as well as various brochures, romantic, esoteric, political and protesters of all stripes. Due to the reestablishment of censorship under the Republic, underground publishing continued in Brussels, until the enactment in France of the 1881 law on freedom of the press.

Image Analysis

The lower face of Napoleon III is drawn in the Arcimboldo style (1527-1593), based on actors and victims of the Empire: those responsible for the Church with whom the regime has compromised, the freedoms tied up , soldiers used and abandoned. The daring representation of the Pope, which figures the nose, has an ancient antecedent in Arcimboldo and in anonymous engravings of the XVIIe century. The imitation of the famous paintings of the Seasons where the garment is always adorned with a flower or a fruit becomes macabre when the cartoonist hangs on the neck of Napoleon III the head of Orsini, executed for having tried to assassinate the emperor in 1858.

The publisher of this sheet is the most secretive and ambiguous figure in the contraband edition. Vital Puissant, a bookseller in Brussels at 14 Grand-Place, publishes works violently opposed to the regime of the Second Empire, to which he is vehemently resentful. Condemned in 1868 and 1869, in France, for having introduced banned magazines and innumerable writings "insulting public and religious morals and good morals and in contempt of the government", he will be again in 1872 [1] for usurpation of the name of Victor Schœlcher in a licentious publication on Napoleon III and in 1874, in Belgium, for defamation and insults through the press.

He is the originator of several propaganda sheets [2] of the same type, printed in a small number of copies and which have become very rare today, which were intended to be plastered on the walls, sold on the fly or distributed. in opposition political meetings


The influence of Arcimboldo in the background

The caricature seems to take deliberately, in derision of the fallen emperor, the type of allegorical portrait of imperial power that Arcimboldo carried out at the end of the XVIe century.
The set of Seasons commissioned by Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg in 1573 took on a political character that went beyond mere pictorial fantasy: it was intended to be an allegory of the emperor's power reigning over States and therefore over men, and dominating also the larger and more timeless world of seasons and elements.

Nowadays, our eye is more intrigued by the relationship between the elements that make up the face than by the portrait taken as a whole. The Arcimboldesque treatment, with its tight and almost organic interweaving of elements, refers to a much more recent artistic trend. Arcimboldo's influence emerges as a research constantly underlying the emergence of modern art. Unexpectedly in this caricature, it remains a watermark in other portraits in the 19th century.e century and will contribute to the bursting of forms by cubism and surrealism in the twentiethe century.

  • caricature
  • censorship
  • Napoleon III
  • Clandestine edition
  • Arcimboldo (Giuseppe)
  • Schœlcher (Victor)


1987 (Pontus Hulten, R. J. Evans, Alfonso E.Perez Sanchez Exhibition catalog Effetto Arcimboldo.Trasformazioni del volto nel sedicesimo e nel venteimo secoloMilan, Bompiani, 1987 René FAYTAuguste Poulet-Malassis in Brussels (September 1863-May 1871)Bruxelles, Les Libraires Momentemment Réunis, 1993 René FAYT “An underground publisher: Vital Puissant”, in Lost Dogs Cedic Notebooks n ° 1 (Free University of Brussels, Center for Contemporary Publishing and Print, 50 avenue Franklin-Roosevelt, B-1050 Brussels), December 1999 Jacques HELLEMANSThe Caricature between Republic and Censorship; satirical imagery in France from 1830 to 1880: a discourse of resistance?Lyon University Press, “Literature and Ideologies” collection, 1996 Philippe ROBERTS-JONESFrom Daumier to Lautrec, essay on the history of French caricature between 1860 and 1890Paris, Les Beaux-Arts, 1960 Diane ROUIT "La caricature", in Dictionary of the Second EmpireParis, Fayard, 1995

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "A clandestine caricature of Napoleon III"

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