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Birds have long been a source of artistic inspiration.

Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827)

Napoleon the Little in a Rage with his Great French Eagle !! 20 Sep 1808

RCIN 810709

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This is one of five panels in the Royal Collection by Giulio Romano that originally belonged an elaborate decorative scheme for the state apartments within the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua. This panel comes from one of the grandest rooms, the Camerino dei Cesar

The Omen of Claudius's Imperial Powers ©

The political symbolism of the eagle – often associated with power and imperial domination – could also be exploited for satirical purposes, as it is in this print by Thomas Rowlandson. Napoleon’s efforts to make Spain part of the First French Empire, with his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne, were challenged when French troops were forced to retreat in summer 1808. Here a large French eagle wearing the Imperial Crown limps with his foot in a sling and makes excuses to the enraged ‘Napoleon the Little’. The frightened eagle describes his Spanish adversaries as cormorants, a species of bird famous for their hunting abilities. Rowlandson pokes fun at the situation by suggesting that the bird gave up because he was worried about losing his feathers and could no longer bear the Spanish heat.