Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne
Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne
Standing Statue of Hatshepsut
Standing Statue of Hatshepsut

How can portraits convey authority?

For thousands of years, rulers and would-be rulers have used portraits to assert their legitimacy, proclaim their power, and solidify their authority. Portraits could be especially important for a sovereign whose actual right to rule was questionable or contested. Such is the case with Napoleon and Hatshepsut, both of whom adopt traditional trappings and postures of rule in their portraits.

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Questions to Consider

  • How are the poses similar in these two images? What aspects of the poses make them work effectively tocommunicate power and authority across cultures and through time?
  • How does each of these images draw on traditional iconographies of power to assert the own authority of its own subject? What role does ceremonial garb play in each portrait?
  • Both Napoleon and Hatshepsut recognized that art could potentially affect the way that others perceived their authority in life. Do you think that power portraits like these have the ability to actually influence the opinion of viewers? Why or why not?

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