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Art Through Time: A Global View

Portraits Compare: How Can Portraits Convey Authority?

Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne

Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne
Artist / Origin: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780–1867)
Region: Europe
Date: 1806
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 102 in. (259 cm.), W: 63 3/4 in. (162 cm.)
Location: Musée de l’Armée, Paris, France
Credit: Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library International

Standing Statue of Hatshepsut

Standing Statue of Hatshepsut
Artist / Origin: Unknown artist, Thebes, Egypt
Region: Africa
Date: New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1479–1458 BCE
Period: 3000 BCE – 500 BCE
Material: Granite (originally with paint)
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: H: 94 ½ in. (242 cm.) (without base)
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, New York
Credit: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource, NY

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.

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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Art Through Time: A Global View


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