Der Deutsche Michel

Among the items acquired by the Military Collection over the past several months, is a rather interesting hand-colored lithograph published in Mannheim, Germany by Korwan in 1841 after a drawing by R. Sabatky. Entitled Der Deutsche Michel bis zum Jahre 1841, it depicts a sleeping Michel wearing a patchwork shirt with the names of various German states such as Saxony, Baden and Bavaria. His mouth is fastened by a padlock. To his right is the Austrian Chancellor Metternich who is drawing blood from Michel’s arm, the blood turning to gold in the bowl. A bulldog, representing John Bull of England, removes a money purse from his pocket, while a French soldier cuts off his sleeve. Michel’s head is being caressed by a Russian cossack. Above the group is a vignette representing soldiers drilling and marching, a man holding a violin and raising a glass to toast (“Es lebe de Rhein”), a battlefield scene with a man standing with one leg on another man (“Es lebe der deutsche Kraft”), and a large cannon with gun crew. In the clouds, Napoleon can be seen with a spyglass.

Michel is a symbolic and emblematic figure in German nationalism. As he sleeps, other European powers are taking advantage of him by exploiting his lands and wealth. The padlock represents the Karlsbad Decrees, designed by Metternich, which introduced strict censorship on the German states represented on his shirt. The trade imbalance between the states and England is represented by the bulldog, while France’s territorial claims on parts of the Rhineland is denoted by the soldier cutting the sleeve. Other known variations of the print include representations of the Pope and German soldiers parading.

According to Rudolf Wagner, the purpose of the image “was to prompt Michel’s awakening…by shaming German compatriots into waking up to a nationalist commitment.”

See:  http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/ojs/index.php/transcultural/article/view/7315/2916

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