Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Able was eh ere he saw Elba

It can be a good thing to focus on content. This morning I needed a smile and checked my watchlist to discover that a featured picture candidate had just gotten promoted. My user talk will probably get a notice about it pretty soon.

Not the greatest artwork, really, but it's a restoration of an original 1814 hand-tinted etching and the subject is Napoleon. It's a piece of trolling: a British celebration of his exile to Elba. He rides a donkey backwards with a broken sword in his hand and a tear streaming down his eye, holding the animal's tail as a caption bursts from its rear, The greatest events in human life is turn'd to a puff.

There's a cute piece of doggerel at the bottom:

Farewell my brave soldiers, my eagles adieu;
Stung with my ambition, o'er the world ye flew:
But deeds of disaster so sad to rehearse
I have lived--fatal truth for to know the reverse.
From Moscow to Lipsic; the case it is clear
I was sent back to France with a flea in my ear.

A lesson to mortals regarding my fall:
He grasps at a shadow, by grasping at all.
My course it is finish'd my race it is run,
My career it is ended just where it begun.
The Empire of France no more it is mine.
Because I can't keep it I freely resign.

It's a timeless sentiment. Every one of your problems you created yourself. You've been a huge hassle and we're glad to see you gone. I admire Napoleon in a way: not many people with egos that huge actually carry out their plans on such scale that the trolling of their downfall remains encyclopedic two centuries afterward. It was fun to restore this and get it close to its original condition. Text-heavy etchings require a lot of labor at high resolution, but the result can be really pleasant. It brings history to life.

No comments: