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Napoleon as Emperor of France and King of Italy

cropped cat 116.jpg

CAT 117. Drawn and engraved by Joseph Longhi. Napoleon as Emperor of France and King of Italy, 1806. Osborne Collection of Melville Materials at Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas.

Joseph Longhi (1766-1831) engraved this image of Napoleon in 1806, one year after Napoleon had made himself King of Italy by placing the Crown of Lombardy on his own head, usurping the prerogative of the Pope. Longhi had “established his reputation in 1797 with an engraving of Napoleon Buonaparte” after a painting by Antoine-Joan Gros (Massari 636). In 1806-07 he also engraved six prints for Le Triumph of Napoléon by Andria Appiani. The image in Melville’s collection is Longhi’s own design, as are two others of Napoleon, one as a general, the other as emperor in 1812 (Le Blanc nos. 31-33). 

Longhi had developed a friendship with Raphael Morghen in Rome in 1792 and he became acquainted with Jacques-Louis David in Paris in 1801. Morghen’s influence is easily seen in Longhi’s 1806 engraving of Napoleon. Its close rendering of minute detail and its conspicuous laurel wreath resemble those features in Morghen’s 1807 engravings of Ariosto and Tasso (CAT 104 and 105) as well as in the 1803 engraving of Dante reproduced in Melville’s copy of the Cary translation of The Vision (MBB 2.2). In 1807, Morghen engraved a half-length portrait of Napoleon after a painting by F. Gérard in which the new King of Italy is facing to the right rather than the left. The inscribed legend on that print identifies Napoleon as Emperor of France, King of Italy, and Protector of the Federation of the Rhine (Halsey, no. 129).

In Melville’s collection, Morghen’s engraved portraits of Ariosto (CAT 104) and Tasso (CAT 105) from 1807 came second-hand through Hart’s reproductions of those images in 1863. In the case of Longhi’s Napoleon, Melville owned the actual Italian engraving from 1806. Napoleon appears in a small circular image on a large folio sheet, a minute representation of a larger-than-life man at the peak of his power. Here, as in Morghen’s Ariosto and Tasso, you can see the veins in the individual leaves of the laurel wreath, trace the lines of the intricate lace, and, in this case, examine the detail of the embroidered birds on the royal coat. 

Longhi was a revered professor at the University of Brera in Milan and he wrote a treatise on the art of engraving. He had become an exponent of the neo-classical style after studying in Rome and his first major engraving was The Genius of Music after Guido Reni in 1794. Longhi engraved several works after paintings by Raphael, among which The Marriage of the Virgin, published in 1820, is considered his masterpiece. Longhi also published accomplished engravings after paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Rubens (Massari 636-67).

Longhi’s 1806 engraving of Napoleon had meaning for Melville’s wife Elizabeth as well as for Herman himself. In an undated memorandum she recorded this translation of the “Inscription on Longhi’s engraving of Napoleon” from Horace: “Alone by valor has thou secured Italian liberties—by virtue thou has given glory to the laws thou hast reformed.” Merton Sealts notes that this inscription “would appear to be a free rendering of Horace, Epistles, II, i (addressed to the Emperor Augustus).” He also notes that the entry by Mrs. Melville in the memorandum book was “canceled in pencil” by her daughter Mrs. Frances Thomas, who indicated that she had given the Longhi print to her daughter Eleanor, later Eleanor Melville Metcalf (Sealts, Early Lives, 176, 250). Longhi’s Napoleon eventually made his way from Eleanor to her sister Frances Osborne's side of the family, and then to the Osborne Collection of Melville materials at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

David Reynolds has shown the Melville was attentive to the politics, culture, and history of France throughout his career as a writer. He suggests that Melville dealt most directly with Napoleon and the revolution from which he emerged in his characterization of Ahab in Moby-Dick. Reynolds sees Ahab as Napoleonic in his mastery of the mechanics and strategy of whaling as well as in an overreaching ambition that eventually leads to his undoing (108-24). In the arc of the novel Ahab reaches the apogee of his Napoleonic ascent over the crew in the “Quarter-Deck” chapter. In the next chapter, “Sunset,” Ahab already feels the internal weight of the “crown” that he wears, “this Iron Crown of Lombardy . . . whose jagged edge galls me so, my brain seems to beat against the solid metal.”  Like Napoleon when exiled to St. Helena after the defeat at Waterloo, Ahab already feels himself “damned . . . in the midst of Paradise!” (NN MD 167). 

Reynolds reproduces the “striking engraved bust of Napoleon” by Longhi that Melville owned. He also mentions “a medallion of Napoleon and Josephine” that Melville purchased as “curio” in Paris in 1849 (114-15).