'The hand-writing upon the wall'
1 of 2 portraits of Elisa Bonaparte
'The hand-writing upon the wall'
by and published by James Gillray
hand-coloured etching and aquatint, published 24 August 1803
10 in. x 14 in. (253 mm x 355 mm) plate size; 10 3/4 in. x 14 7/8 in. (272 mm x 378 mm) paper size
Artistback to top
- James Gillray (1756-1815), Caricaturist. Artist associated with 881 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.
Sittersback to top
- Elisa Bonaparte (1777-1820), Sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. Sitter in 2 portraits. Identify
- Pauline (née Bonaparte), Princess Borghese (1780-1825), Sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. Sitter in 5 portraits. Identify
- Joséphine Bonaparte (née Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, formerly de Beauharnais) (1763-1814), Empress consort of Napoléon Bonaparte. Sitter in 8 portraits. Identify
- Caroline Murat (née Bonaparte) (1782-1839), Youngest sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, wife of Joachim Murat. Sitter in 3 portraits. Identify
- Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), Emperor of France 1804-14. Sitter associated with 91 portraits. Identify
- Arthur O'Connor (1763-1852), Irish rebel. Sitter in 7 portraits. Identify
This portraitback to top
In developing his caricature as a bitingly effective political tool which worked on a number of levels, Gillray often made mock-heroic reference to biblical stories and high art. This invasion-scare print of August 1803 was made in response to Napoleon's recent boast that he needed only three days of fog to be master of London. The Emperor, a grossly fat Josephine and their coterie, including Napoleon's three scantily-clad sisters, devour a feast of iced English buildings. Behind the Emperor stand three grenadiers with bloodied sabres, their heavily shadowed eyes drawn to the sky where a pair of scales and an ominous message signal that the days of Napoleon's kingdom are numbered. Drawn from the biblical story of the Feast of Belshazzar, Napoleon's pose is adapted directly from the King of Babylon in Rembrandt's painting of the same subject, now at the National Gallery.
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1803back to top
Current affairsThe Vice Society is formally established by John Reeves and his associates to campaign against blasphemy and immorality, particularly that perpetrated by Thomas Paine and the Edinburgh Review.
Art and scienceErasmus Darwin's Temple of Nature published posthumously. A scientific treaty in the form of an elaborate couplet poem, its content anticipated some of the evolutionary ideas developed by his grandson, Charles Darwin, fifty years later.
Construction of the Caledonian Canal begins.
InternationalWar with France resumes, sparking new fears of a cross-channel invasion.
United Irishman, Robert Emmett's attempted uprising in Dublin. Planned to coincide with Napoleon's expected invasion, it aimed to overthrow the English administration but ended in failure. Emmett is hanged along with several other conspirators.
Read our latest news and have your say.
Identify our Silhouettes
Join enthusiastic contributors who have already identified 155 sitters.
Tell us more about our Silvy sitters
Help us identify the sitters who visited Camille Silvy’s photographic studio during the 1860s.
Tell us more
Framed & unframed prints
Choose your favourite portrait from our Collection as a framed or unframed print for your home.