Johann Michael Voltz (1784-1858) was the son of a schoolteacher and studied with the engraver Friedrich Weber in Augsburg. Voltz joined the publisher Friedrich Campe in Nuremberg in 1809 and worked there until his death. During his life he produced thousands of drawings and etchings. His was best known for his work on battles and historical events. A prominent satirical artist especially when it came to Napoleon, this is one of his best-known images. It was reproduced by Ackermann in London in 1814, in Germany, Italy, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, England and has even been seen in Russian. It was even issued in Paris.
A translation of the text with thanks to Francis Herbert reads as follows ‘The face is composed of the corpses of those who died on account of his ambition, while he is crushed by the eagle of the Allies. A map indicates the names of the battles he lost during his last campaign, as well as the rivers he crossed, and which fall into his collar-stream of blood. The hand of Justice crushes the thread of his grandeur, the flimsy nature of which is indicated by the spider’s web and the word ‘Ehrfurt’ on the ribbon of his Order (of the Legion), which denotes that he has lost all honour.’
The image is a bust portrait of Napoleon in profile to the left, it is a ‘corpse-head’ or ‘hieroglyphic’ map, the most famous of those issued at the time directed against him. The original non-satirical image was a head and shoulders print engraved by Lehmann following Napoleon’s visit to Berlin in 1806. The artist of the original German satirical image, printed in Berlin around December 1813, was at first unidentified but later was found to be Johann Michael Voltz. It was issued following Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig 16-19 October 1813.
This French version is one of four recorded. Francis Herbert’s article alludes to the fact that although written in French this may well have been printed elsewhere on the continent. The 1810 Decree of Napoleon granted control over all printers to a Director General. In the extreme lower left is written ‘Dep[os] e a la Dir[ectio]n G[eneral]e’, quiet possibly placed there to indicate it was approved of.
This image was referred to in Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Trumpet-Major’, set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the protagonist shows a copy of the broadside to the heroine as “something to make us brave and patriotic.” Hardy describes it: “It was a hieroglyphic profile of Napoleon. The hat represented a maimed French eagle the face was ingeniously made up of human carcases, knotted and writhing together in such directions as to form a physiognomy a band, or stock, shaped to resemble the English Channel, encircled his throat, and seemed to choke him his epaulette was a hand tearing a cobweb that represented the treaty of peace with England and his ear was a woman crouching over a dying child.” (Hardy 1881, 2:40-41). Provenance: private collection of Rodney Shirley, acquired from Brobury House in 1987. Herbert (1989), ‘The Corpse-head’, or, a bed-time story for map lovers’, in The Map Collector no. 48, p. 20; Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection (online).