Monday, August 22, 2016

Fighting for the dunghill, or, Jack Tar settling Buonaparte, 1798

Today's print is an iconic image of Jack Tar.

"Fighting for the dunghill, or, Jack Tar settling Buonaparte."
James Gillray, 1798. The Lewis Walpole Library.
This print was issued to celebrate Lord Nelson's victory at Aboukir Bay off the Nile Delta of Egypt in August of 1798. The engraver, James Gillray, sets aside the national personification of "John Bull" and instead embodies British strength with "Jack Tar".

Jack's toe is planted on Malta, which rebelled against French occupation in September of 1798 with support from the British blockade, while the knee of the emaciated Napoleon rests unsteadily on Turkey as blood spurts from his nose - the blows from plump (as shown by his ample belly) Jack's fists have hit their mark.

Part of what makes this image of Jack so ironic is how the details of his dress as drawn by Gillray and the way the print colorist painted them fit so perfectly with modern notions of what a Napoleonic sailor "should" look like: he wear a blue jacket with gold buttons, red waistcoat, tow-colored petticoat breeches over breeches tied at the knee and colored a yellowish light brown, horizontally-striped blue and white stockings, and buckled shoes. His brown hair is short in front with a long queue behind, and his round hat has a blue hatband that reads "Britannia Rules the W[aves]". This is, indeed, Jack Tar - there is no mistaking him for anyone else in such a costume.

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