First-Hand Descriptions of Napoleon
By Tom Holmberg
Napoleon was 5 feet 6½ inches tall, average height at the time. In his early years he was quite lean and only after 1806 did he become heavy. In his younger years he was often described as sickly in appearance, his skin having a yellowish pallor. He had fine white teeth, which he was proud. His nose was slightly curved, with a "sharp and delicate modelling, [but] was less prominent than one is inclined to suppose from the evidence of his portraits." His eyes, deep-set, were reportedly gray or gray-blue.
Chateaubriand described him, during the Consulate: "His face made a favourable impression on me, for up to now I had seen him only in the distance. His smile is friendly and winning, his eyes wonderful, especially in the way they are set deep under his forehead and overshadowed by his eyebrows. There is nothing of the charlatan in his appearance, nothing theatrical or artificial....An extraordinary imagination animated this cold politician; lacking the inspiration of this Muse, he could never have attained such heights."
Mary Berry also saw Napoleon in 1802, stating that his 'mouth, when speaking...has a remarkable and uncommon expression of sweetness. His eyes are light grey, and he looks full in the face of the person to whom he speaks. To me always a good sign.'
In the same year, an Englishwoman, Fanny Burney, described his face being 'of a deeply impressive cast, pale even to sallowness, while not only in the eye but in every feature-care, thought, melancholy and meditation are so strongly marked, with so much of character, nay, genius, and so penetrating a seriousness, or rather sadness, as powerfully to sink into an observer's mind.' She also described his demeanor as 'more the air of a student than a warrior.'