Napoleonic Bones Art

Check these beautiful works of art made out of bones :)


This working model of a guillotine was carved by the French PoWs, from the Napoleonic wars, awaiting his death. It's bizarrely ornamental and features a tiny mechanism by which the executioner (with the red cravat) operates the blade to kill a prisoner.

The 200-year-old replica was crafted by an inmate using animal bone scraps, salvaged from waste bins.


During a routine valuation in Dorset, a Duke’s Auctioneers specialist found the 20 inch-tall model.

Duke’s expert Amy Brenan from Duke's auction house in Dorchester said , "With little contact outside the prisoner of war camps, prisoners were forced to improvise. Cheap materials like straw and scrap wood were easy to find and prisoners were able to use skills learnt in their trades outside the camp to produce high quality objects such as woven straw-work boxes."


The prototype shows a platform lined with soldiers and a set of steps up the the guillotine itself. Other soldiers surround the blade and a decapitated body lies beneath it.

"The working guillotine model being offered for sale is made from bone, most probably sheep bone, derived from the rubbish bins of the camp kitchens."


"The guillotine was a vivid symbol during the French revolution and a number of these models were actually working examples such as this one. The guillotine blade moves up and down and the soldiers each have reticulated arms so the swords they are holding can move up and down. Each figure is carefully highlighted in black and red to denote facial expressions and the uniforms of the soldiers."

It was probably made between 1805 and 1815 and has been kept in excellent condition by the family that has owned it since the 19th century.


"Napoleonic prisoner of war models made from bone and ivory are hard to come by. Many designs such as the model battle ships, spinning jennies and guillotines are so intricate that they disintegrate overtime and this makes any surviving examples extremely rare."

"The sheer skill in creating a working model of the guillotine coupled with its social significance at the time, has made the guillotine models particularly desirable. I was doing a routine valuation in a house when I saw the model. The family had no idea what it was."


This superbly accurate and highly detailed models are fine example of the artistic craftsmanship of the prisoners, held during the Napoleonic Wars.


From 1797 to 1816, about 10,000 prisoners were held at the Norman Cross POW camp.


Many of these soldiers and sailors had been conscripted into the Napoleonic military machine. They had crafting skills from their civilian lives, and desperate to make a little money to pad their meager subsistence, they made models of bone, ivory, wood scraps, even straw which they used to create marquetry baskets. Many of them are signed with the artists/prisoners’ names. The prisoners would then be allowed to sell their crafts to the local inhabitants.


Prisoners would keep bones from their food rations. After gathering bones for, they boiled the bones and bleached them in the sun, to make the bones easier to shape and carve.


When the materials from their meals weren’t enough, they supplemented their supplies with human bones from the shallow graves around camp, uncovered by roving pigs. They also used tissue paper to create the sails and their own hair for the sail rigging.


The imprisoned artists used the largest bones to carve the body of the ship, moving on to the smaller ones to create the finely detailed cannons and masts.


At one point, there was such a market for the bone ships that people in nearby villages would smuggle silk, gold or silver foil, ivory, tortoise shell, and other materials for the artists to use.



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