Is it just the nipples?
May 20, 2005 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Calling all historians: a question inspired by this photo, found through this FPP. What is the significance of the Napoleonic hand-inside-of-shirt pose?

Other examples include this Byzantine mosaic of the Emperor Justinian and his retinue, and of course Napoleon himself (as painted by Jacques-Louis David).

I know they're all military men (to Justinian's right is General Belisarius and presumably another high-ranking military guy), but there must be more to the convention than this. Fill me in!
posted by Cuke to Grab Bag (15 answers total)
 
The hand-held-in thing was a common stance for "men of breeding". It was a fad.
posted by Specklet at 11:06 AM on May 20, 2005


There really isn't more convention. Napoleon always gets credit for it ("oh, he had bad ulcers..."), but it's really just a combination of human nature and 18th and 19th century military uniforms. If we wore thick coats with big, sturdy, gappy buttons a lot of people would pose that way. But we don't, so no one does it.

Think of the posture that a sizeable minority of people assume when waching TV-- they jam their hands in their waistband on top of their lower abdomen. No one taught anyone to do it-- it's just one of the postures that sticks because it feels comfy. It's like posing with your hand in your pocket, but no one tells you not to do it.

(Justinian isn't doing it, by the way. I'm pretty sure that he's just holding a bowl with one arm under his tunic. Or he has a huge boner.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:09 AM on May 20, 2005


If we wore thick coats with big, sturdy, gappy buttons a lot of people would pose that way.

I'm not sure about that; in the Napolean portrait, his jacket is actually unbuttoned to accomodate his hand...
posted by mr_roboto at 11:22 AM on May 20, 2005


I'm not sure about that; in the Napolean portrait, his jacket is actually unbuttoned to accomodate his hand...

You might be onto something-- I always assume that the fingers are in different gaps because there was a portrait of Washington posed that way in my hometown library. And I always thought it was ridiculous.

Why jam your whole hand in there when a few fingers would be better? This might be related to why Napoleon such trouble fathering kids.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:34 AM on May 20, 2005


Thanks for the replies so far.

With regards to the Justinian mosaic, I was actually referring to the two guys on Justinian's right (white tunics, brown stripes - the general and his friend). C'mon - they've definately got their hands stuffed in their tunics...don't they?

Which means that if it's a fad, it's a 1200 year long fad.
posted by Cuke at 11:35 AM on May 20, 2005


C'mon - they've definately got their hands stuffed in their tunics...don't they?

I don't think they are. Looking more closely, everyone who is wearing a brown toga over their tunica (including Justinian) seems to have an obscured arm. The two guys in the entourage have funny arms, but that might be artistic license on the part of the guy laying tile-- as in he forgot to cover one of their arms halfway through. Something is definitely hosed with that mosaic-- the togas start out of nowhere.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:45 AM on May 20, 2005


I think you're looking at two different things:
1) A much older stance that was the standard way to hold your ceremonial toga
2) The Napoleon hand-in-the-coat

I don't have any answers for you though.
posted by agropyron at 12:03 PM on May 20, 2005


Well, I remember in Time Bandits that the "Napoleon" character does it because his hand is SOLID FREAKING GOLD. Which is something I never understood. In the slightest.
posted by rabble at 12:15 PM on May 20, 2005


A quick google search using "napoleon pose" turns up FAQs: Why is Napoleon depicted with his hand in his coat? from The Napoleon Series.
posted by jazon at 12:28 PM on May 20, 2005


I agree that it probably echo's the Roman Toga thing. The other bit to consider here is that photography back then wasn't such an instant thing. If I remember right the exposure on the earliest photographs is measured in 10's of seconds if not minutes. That can be a long time to hold a pose. I think this is also why some people can seem a lot crisper, clearer in some photos. I imagine it was easier to hold your hand steady if you left it in your shirt in the pose. That and it seems to echo the whole hand over heart thing that people still do today during the national anthem. These are all just some speculations from this historian as I don't recall ever seeing a definate answer on this one.
posted by Numenorian at 12:30 PM on May 20, 2005


Following rabble's lead, in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Socrates often has his hand in a similar position because he is holding up part of his toga (keeping it fram dragging on the ground, I think).
posted by o2b at 12:46 PM on May 20, 2005


The toga issue is a separate one. The Napoleonic quirk was a pose of a gentleman. Think of a Victorian man who, when talking with someone, put his hand behind him in the small of the back.
posted by Specklet at 12:55 PM on May 20, 2005


The link posted by Jazon contains this snippet:

the hidden hand was a feature of some statues of the ancient Greeks and Romans and that later painters based their poses on classical models

That seems to make sense. Thanks again.
posted by Cuke at 1:01 PM on May 20, 2005


I recall from e're the days of grade six naughtiness, a Playboy cartoon showing that what he's really doing his holding his penis in place. Yes, his great big penis, nearly as large as his own dimunitive self. Tee. Hee. So naughty.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:02 PM on May 20, 2005


FFF: I heard Napoleon had a teeny weenie.

I recall a cartoon which explained it. He had a sandwich hidden in there. His troops were starving.
posted by Goofyy at 2:45 AM on May 23, 2005


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