Alison Goudie (National Gallery, London) - Smuggled Silhouettes and the In/Visibility of Royal Exile during the Napoleonic Wars

seminar report

Maria Carolina of Austria, queen of Naples and Sicily, was exiled for many years, with her husband, Ferdinand IV, and their family. Like some other exiles and sympathizers, Maria Carolina became an enthusiastic user of secret writings, prints and other materials to communicate with friends, family and supporters. The discovery of invisible inks and the cooperation of artists, printers, printmakers and booksellers were crucial in maintaining sympathetic networks. Friendly or negligent police helped too. They produced and circulated a wide range of items conveying encouragement, news or propaganda, in word or image. Snuff boxes, heads of walking sticks, chess pieces and other items were made to convey secret messages. The carefully carved side of a pawn, held up between a lamp and the wall might reveal the profile of an exiled king, while Maria Carolina herself used invisible ink to write messages sent to allies on the paper insoles of shoes. Among the most widely used objects of secret propaganda were ‘hidden silhouettes’, printed and sometimes coloured, sold, exchanged and occasionally even advertised in the press. Ostensibly showing elaborate depictions of foliage, gardens, symbolic objects such as fleurs-de-lys or individuals and groups of people, such silhouettes could be made out in the negative, empty spaces left by the designer. Profiles of monarchs, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Neapolitan Bourbons and Habsburgs, could be discerned and relished by royalists. Negative propaganda against revolutionaries and republicans was similarly widely circulated. Indeed, hidden silhouettes in particular were scarcely secret, their intention and message often enough clear. They flourished in an extensive world of secret and not-so-secret communications, laconic and often witty, which might be found even on French assignat currency or stamps on taxed paper. They provide evidence of widespread enthusiasm for conspiratorial activity and for informed reading of complex, ambiguous materials. Ironically, such items were also circulated by Bonapartists during Napoleon’s exile on Elba and again by royalists during the Hundred Days of 1815. CCN