Historical Events  People

Napoleon only had one hand

Napoleon had two hands

Hidden hand or missing hand?

The popular image of Napolean today is from the many paintings done of him when he was a General.

There's something about them, however, which has led many to believe that he was missing a hand, and it's all down to a fashion trend he was following in those portaits. 

The idea is people are sure he was missing a hand because he is mostly seen with his right arm tucked into the middle of his shirt. Since his hand is never seen, it is assumed he either didn't have one, or the one he had was deformed and this was his way of hiding it.

In fact it turns out he was blessed with two hands but was always seen hiding one because of a tradition going back to the ancient Greeks, where it was seen as "more stately" to not have a free hand, since it prevents one from flailing it about and makes the subject appear more dignified and refined.

Hidden hand

It will seem strange to modern eyes, but fashion "poses" were a real thing for many, many years and taken very seriously.

The gesture is attributed to the ancient Greeks, where the "sport" of debating was refined by Aeschines who used it deliberately so he couldn't wildly flair about like some of his contemporaries, and so appeared more restrained, bringing more focus on his words and speech rather than animated gestures. In time, these gestures came to be seen as crude, and therefore deliberately restraining oneself from even being able to make them was seen as better etiquette.

Most of this would be lost on modern society who would only have seen the portraits, and naturally assumed he was missing a hand.