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This portrait was probably carved by an Italian master stonecarver in Carrara, Italy, using Antoine-Denis Chaudet’s original clay version as a model in 1804, the year in which Napoléon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. The herm bust presents Napoléon in the tradition of portraits of Roman emperors such as Caesar Augustus. He is nude and has short hair, a straight Roman nose, a firm mouth and brow, and blank eyes. The ruler was so pleased with this image that he made it his official state portrait, and over one thousand versions were produced in a variety of sizes and media, including bronze, terracotta, plaster, and porcelain. Like Roman emperors, Napoléon and his family gave these sculptures away as gifts, thereby broadcasting his power all over Europe.
Chaudet studied in Rome, where he learned that he could satisfy collectors’ wishes for owning a Greek or Roman statue by providing them with a new sculpture carved in the Neoclassical style. The success of this portrait of Napoléon brought Chaudet commissions for more versions. Until his death in 1810, he was considered to be the French sculptor who best interpreted the ideals of Neoclassicism.
from Snite Museum of Art, Selected Works: Snite Museum of Art (Notre Dame, 2005)