Captivating respiration: the ‘Breathing Napoleon’

Diseases of Modern Life

I’ve always felt uncomfortable around waxworks and dummies. As a child, I dreaded those occasions when our weekend museum visit would take us to Cleckheaton’s Red House Museum, the drawing room of which was set out so that the visitor had to walk down a central aisle surrounded on all sides by reclining dummies in period costume. They seemed poised to stand up at any moment, ready to dismiss the interlopers trooping through their house, and I always walked quickly past them, avoiding the eyes that I was sure would be trained upon me.

In retrospect, it could have been a much more troubling experience. As I was researching something on the British Newspaper Archive this week, I came across the ‘Breathing Napoleon’ – a travelling exhibit of the 1830s hailing from across the Channel. This effigy of the French leader reclined on a couch dressed in his uniform…

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