Barye had studied the animals in the Jardin des Plantes and in the comparative anatomy laboratory in the Natural History Museum in the company of Delacroix. His animal compositions are always lively and dramatic but the sculptor also had a taste for classical iconography and – as here, in this plaster model for Monument to Napoleon I for Ajaccio, executed in 1865 – for a sort of classical permanence which structures schemas and cools passions.
He has used an antique toga and a typically Roman equestrian statue to express imperial majesty. In the finished monument, Barye's highly impressive figure rose up between life-sized full-length statues of the four Bonaparte brothers (by Millet, Thomas, Petit and Mallet). The emperor crowned with a laurel wreath is holding a globe; the work was produced on an impressive scale, with the equestrian statue standing over three metres tall. The simplification of the volumes and the idealisation of the face further accentuate the monumental effect.
Although the authorities considered him too romantic for the official exhibitions, Barye received commissions such as the Lion for the July Column in Paris, and allegories for the Louvre's new pavilions, as well as a Seated Lion in 1846. For the Louvre again, he was asked to make another Napoleon III as a Roman Emperor, but it was never installed.