The Art of The Emperor’s New Clothes

By Derek Newman-Stille

The Emperor’s New Clothes is an intensely visual tale, exploring ideas of dignity, performance, and the ostentatiousness of royalty. But, fundamentally, it is about what is not there – the absence of art, the absence of clothing.

Clothing is a way that we perform our identity, the way that we illustrate who we are. It is an art that is linked to identity. The Emperor in the tale is caught between the power of the spoken word to create clothing (by describing it and convincing the court of the presence of the clothing), yet the clothing is not physically present. It is not something that exists except in the descriptive sense.

Art work about The Emperor’s New Clothes is simultaneously about what is there and what is absent.



Harry Clarke

(from Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, New York: Brentano’s 1916)


Clarke portrays the Emperor as a mix of nudity and ostentatiousness. The Emperor is dressed in a simple undershirt, but is still wearing his ostentatious crown.

Clarke highlights some of Hans Christian Andersen’s orientalism in the tale by portraying the Emperor as effete and self involved. He is portrayed with head tilted upward, the centre of attention. He has one arm on his hip and his other hand touching his chest. He poses for all of the other ostentatiously dressed officials, all of whom have focused their entire attention on him.

All of the members of the court portrayed in the image are dressed in long, flowing robes with elaborate patterns. Clarke accentuates Andersen’s interest in courtly artificiality by bringing attention to the Emperor’s closed eyes and his assumption that everyone will be looking at him. By centering the Emperor in the image and portraying the rest of the court on the fringe, with most of the courtly figures only partially exposed in the image.

Harry Clarke lived from 1889 to 1931 and was born in Dublin. His first printed work was a set of illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales in 1916. In addition to illustrations, Clarke designed stained glass.



Renáta Fučíková


Renáta Fučíková portrays the Emperor surrounded by his own images. He has two mirrors, illustrating his self-obsession and vanity. This Emperor stares at his own image, bending his neck seductively, lidding his eyes, and pursing his lips. This is a narcissistic Emperor who is in love with his own image, excited about his nudity.

Whereas earlier images of the Emperor depicted him with underwear or a dressing gown, Fučíková portrays him in the full nude. Like Clarke’s illustration, Fučíková’s Emperor wears his crown and his staff.

This Emperor is portrayed in the midst of having his invisible clothing displayed and altered by the tailors. One of the tailors holds up the invisible garment for the Emperor to observe even though the Emperor is entirely uninterested in the garment, looking at himself.

Portraying the Emperor’s bedclothes on the floor around his feet mirrors the image of nude models rather than representing an image of someone who is trying on new clothes.

Despite the fact that these tailors are portrayed as lazy liars, these men are performing an excess of work. They are illustrating a counter artificiality to the performance of wealth. Their performance is one of work, a purview that is generally ascribed to the working class. Fučíková portrays a dual narrative of performance in this image, portraying the performance of ostentatiousness by the wealthy and the performance of work by workers.

Renáta Fučíková graduated from the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague during 1988. She has illustrated works from The Brothers Grimm (in 1993) and The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (in 1994).



Angela Rizza


Angela Rizza’s illustration of The Emperor’s New Clothes provides the viewer with the Emperor’s own image of himself, using a mirror to allow us to see the way the Emperor imagines himself to appear. The emperor is portrayed in his underwear, a crown, and a staff. He is portrayed with underwear that have hearts on them, illustrating some of his self love. The image he sees is of an emperor in full regalia. Rizza does what other authors don’t by showing us the way the Emperor sees himself, giving physicality to the invisible.

Rizza’s Emperor is portrayed in a large, open room with few objects other than a floor-to-ceiling mirror. The focus is on his own reflection. This mirror is portrayed with leonine imagery, playing with the notion that the lion is the king of animals. The lion portrayed at the top of the mirror stares back at the Emperor, making certain that all of the eyes in the room are on him.

Angela Rizza is an American artist who shows her work on the website Deviant Art at


Barbara C. Freeman


Barbara C. Freeman’s illustration of The Emperor’s New Clothes illustrates the Emperor processing. He is illustrated in the nude with emphasis upon his golden crown, staff, and orb illustrated by the nimbus surrounding each of the gold items. The Emperor’s nude lower body is cleverly cloaked by the literal cloak of a courtier standing in front of him.

This Emperor is surrounded by ostentatiously dressed courtiers with wigs and the peasants are portrayed in the background, standing on the staircase. There is a literal wall between the two classes, though the peasants are literally elevated in this image, standing above the royals by standing on the staircase.

Directly above the Emperor is the child who points out the Emperor’s nudity. This child is portrayed with her accusatory finger pointing at the Emperor while her father rests his hands on her shoulders.

Barbara C. Freeman lived From 1906 until 1999 and was an English illustrator.


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