Napoleon III and the politics of nationalities

Napoleon III and the politics of nationalities

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Title: Victory bringing news of the battle won at Magenta to the Council of Regency

Author : GUILLEMET Pierre-Désiré (1827 - 1863)

Creation date : 1859

Date shown: 04 June 1859

Dimensions: Height 33.5 - Width 24.5

Technique and other indications: (June 4, 1859) Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Château de Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet web site

Picture reference: 97DE10829 / C. 70,219

Victory bringing news of the battle won at Magenta to the Council of Regency

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

One of the consequences of the Orsini attack, perpetrated on January 14, 1858 against Emperor Napoleon III, was the creation of a Privy Council comprising the Empress, Prince Napoleon and the main dignitaries of the regime. This Council of Regency functioned when the emperor personally commanded the Franco-Piedmontese troops during the Italian campaign.

During the interview with Plombières on July 21, 1858, Napoleon III and Cavour had agreed to drive Austria out of Italy, and to make Victor-Emmanuel king of northern Italy, "from the Alps to the Adriatic. ". In exchange, Piedmont would cede Nice and Savoy to France. The Franco-Piedmontese troops won the victories of Magenta and Solferino on June 4 and 24, 1859, which freed Lombardy from Austrian domination.

Image Analysis

Sitting on a dais surmounted by a canopy, Empress Eugenie holds the Prince Imperial on her knees. The child is smiling and looks up at the Winged Victory to which he waves.

Prince Jerome stands to the left of the Empress. He is standing, leaning on the back of the emperor's empty armchair, where the crown and scepter are placed.

In the foreground, at the foot of the platform, the members of the Council of Regency are represented half-length. They are divided into two groups. In the one on the left, we recognize the Duc de Morny, president of the legislative body, and Monsignor Morlot, cardinal-archbishop of Paris.

At the top right of the painting, a winged Victory, crowned with laurel, holds out an oval shield which reads: "MAGENTA ... ANNO MDCC... "(the entry is partially deleted). It flies above an eagle holding an olive branch in its beak.


In this work, Pierre-Désiré Guillemet associates allegory with political realism

Winged Victory is an allegorical figure who, by announcing Magenta's military success at the Council of Regency, proclaims the regained prestige of imperial France on the international scene. After the Paris Congress of 1856, which erased the Vienna Congress of 1815, the victories of Napoleon III in Italy placed France in the position of arbiter for the triumph of the nationalities policy advocated by the Emperor and peace in Europe. The eagle holding in its beak an olive branch perfectly illustrates the famous phrase spoken by Napoleon III during the reestablishment of the imperial regime: "The Empire is peace! "

Moreover, Guillemet's painting depicts a very real political situation. In the absence of the emperor who directs the military operations in Italy, it is the Council of Regency which governs, as it will govern moreover in 1865 and in 1870. Contrary to this could let suppose the abandoned crown and the scepter on the empty throne, imperial power is not vacant. The Empress is regent. She is assisted by Prince Jérôme - Napoleon III's uncle and ex officio member of the Council - whose presence symbolizes dynastic durability, essential in an exceptional political situation.

  • allegory
  • imperial dynasty
  • Empress Eugenie (Montijo de)
  • Italy
  • nationality policy
  • Second Empire
  • Italian unit
  • Napoleon III
  • Solferino (battle of)
  • Magenta (battle of)


Raymond BOUGERIE, Magenta and Solferino (1859): Napoleon III and the Italian dream, Paris, Economica, 1993.

Jean-Baptiste DUROSELLE, Europe from 1815 to the present day: political life and international relations, Paris, PUF, 1999.

François GARELLI, History of Franco-Italian relations, Paris, Right Bank, 1999.

Jean TULARD (dir.), Dictionary of the Second Empire, Paris, Fayard, 1995.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "Napoleon III and the politics of nationalities"

Video: Second French Empire 18521870 Hymne à Napoléon III et à son vaillant peuple