The Objects

24th Feb 1815

Source: Private collection

Napoleon's Tuna Army

Contributed by: Alberto Milano

Coloured etching, 160 x 200 mm/copper
below centre: caption in Italian; below right: Milano 1814

New tuna soldiers draw your number
Bonaparte says in a loud voice,
You will get for me new conquests
Transmitting the lightning bolts of my avenging sword
The Magistrate presents himself at the sea shore
And every tuna bows to him

The statement that this sheet was printed in Milan was designed to mislead the authorities and it was probably printed in Florence late in 1814.
In the background of the print, Porto Ferraio, the capital of Elba, can be seen, along with its fortifications.
The print envisages the exiled Napoleon trying to raise a new army from tuna, being a plentiful local resource. He is raising troops by the usual method of drawing a number, although the minimum height of the soldier had to be 1.54m. Potential recruits fell into three categories: 1) fit to march, 2) suitable without exemption, 3) suitable with exemption.
All this can be seen in the caricature where tuna are acting as soldiers: fish that draw their number are then being measured, with one of them having a right to exemption by showing a paper proving epilepsy. Some fish are being drilled, marching behind Napoleon and carrying a flag.
Napoleon really did enlist soldiers on Elba and tried to raise others on the Italian mainland to supplement the veterans who had joined him in exile, but the print is probably chiefly an ironic comment on his incorrigible militarism. Similar prints later showed him training rats on Saint Helena.

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