What’s with Napoleon putting his hand in his coat?

Napoleon Statue, Musée de l'Armée, Paris

If you want to mimic Napoleon Bonaparte, just stand straight and hide one hand in your jacket. It’s an immediately recognizable pose and unique to Napoleon, right?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - hand in jacketLike so many Napoleonic myths, there’s more here than meets the eye.

In fact, the one-hand-concealed stance can be traced back to the days of Roman togas and even to Greek statues dating from 350 B.C.E. More than a hundred years before Napoleon’s rise to power, it had returned to fashion and was considered a refined pose for a gentleman’s portrait.

I’ve included here a portrait of young Mozart in 1764 and one of George Washington in 1776, both painted years before Napoleon’s fame made the pose iconic to him.

George Washington in 1776 - hand in jacketIf you search the internet, you can find similar portraits of Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, Simon Bolivar, the Marquis de Lafayette, Hosni Mubarak, and many others, all with one hand slipped inside their jackets.

According to Napoleon-Series.org, “in 1738 Francois Nivelon published A Book Of Genteel Behavior describing the ‘hand-in-waistcoat’ posture as signifying ‘manly boldness tempered with modesty.’ ”

I agree that “manly boldness” describes Napoleon Bonaparte, but “tempered with modesty”?


  • Helen
    March 27, 2014 - 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the posturing will make a comeback? I will be on the look out for such “manly boldness”! (And some female equivalent!)

  • Randy
    October 19, 2014 - 10:47 pm | Permalink

    This pose was a sign of Masonic membership. Being a secret society, apparently the word has not gotten out to everyone yet…

  • mrodenberg
    October 31, 2014 - 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Randy, I’ve heard that but never seen any proof. If you or anyone else has a source, I’d love to hear it. Of course, my examples of George Washington and Mozart only support that theory–both were known to be Masons.

  • Emma
    January 20, 2015 - 10:24 am | Permalink

    I wonder if the “modesty” thing might have been a bit of a ploy. I notice when Kim Jong Un appears before a vast crowd in North Korea, they always applaud him (they’ve no doubt been trained to), and he either applauds too, as if to share the praise equally with the people, or motions for them to sit down. It’s obviously a very elaborate show of false humility, and it produces the desired effect.

    Sorry to compare Kim Jong Un with Napoleon. I know the latter had more charisma. 😉

  • mrodenberg
    January 30, 2015 - 8:19 am | Permalink

    Emma, you’re right in that leaders all around the world and throughout history have found ways look modest while encouraging their own praise. Part of being in power, I guess. Thanks for reading the blog and commenting.

  • spencer
    March 25, 2015 - 9:09 am | Permalink

    The masonic “hidden hand” nor the secret handshake have anything to do with sticking your hand in your jacket, your friends jacket, or pockets even. It is a confussion of terms, a homonym of sorts which has gained traction in the minds of people who want to imagine napoleon and some other despots were free masons. It’s also akin to saying people who wear turbins are terrorists, or white men with shaved heads are all racist. Orange traffic cones must taste like oranges. So ignorance of a term, and a logical fallacy.

    But who am I to say?

  • mrodenberg
    April 26, 2015 - 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Spencer, I agree that Napoleon’s hand in jacket posture probably has nothing to do with Free Masons. As I said in the blog, in Napoleon’s time, it was simply considered a gentlemanly posture.

  • Ron Wood
    June 21, 2015 - 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Margaret,

    Good luck with the book, what inspired you to write it?

    Napoleon has always been a character who has interested me since my childhood and he consistently seems to be a character of contrasts. One of a few people who seem to inspire love and hate, hero worship and contempt.

    I hope you find/have found your publisher, if so please advise I’d like to read your book.


    Ron Wood

  • mrodenberg
    August 4, 2015 - 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the good wishes. Like you, I’m fascinated by the contradictions in Napoleon’s personality, and the way people react to him, or actually react to the various mythologies about him. I wrote the book because I wanted to know who he really was as a person.

    I’m still working on finding a publisher–and still editing the manuscript, too. I’ll let you know when to expect to see it come out.

    Take care!

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