A porcelain plaque with the image of Napoleon Bonaparte made in Wuhan, China
A porcelain plaque (c. 1920-1930) housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, possesses specific interest for researchers. Being decorated with an en grisaille image of Napoleon Bonaparte (1799–1804), emperor of France and one of the most celebrated personages in Western history, above his portrait, it bears a Chinese inscription in black: “French President Napoleon.” On the lower left, an inscription reads to indicate that the plaque is decorated by Rongkang Porcelain Company in Hankou (a former city, now formed part of Wuhan), with a red seal below.
It’s worth mentioning that Chinese export porcelain was once the ultimate mark of sophistication for Western ceramic enthusiasts. Hankou was known for its celadon and white porcelain manufacturing. However, the Hankou white porcelain items are rarely found in Europe.
Notably, the image of the French political leader and military commander embellishing the plaque emulates the famous portrait by Paul Delaroche (1797 – 1856), “L’empereur Napoléon Ier dans son cabinet de travail en 1807.” or likely steel-engraved plates based on the composition of the present painting.
The patrons and the original purpose of the Chinese porcelain plaque still need to be discovered.