Honorius, known in full as Flavius Honorius, was a Roman emperor between 393 to 423. He was the youngest son of emperor Theodosius I and Aelia Flaccilla and brother to Arcadius. Honorius is considered to be the worst Roman emperors during the last era of the Eastern Roman Empire. This is because, during his reign, Rome was sacked for the first time in eight centuries. His reign was precarious and highly chaotic. He also reigned at a time when the Western Roman Empire was declining rapidly. According to ancient tales, it is claimed that upon hearing of the news of Rome's perishing, Honorius initially thought that the report was about his favorite chicken that he named Roma. John William Waterhouse's The Favorites of the Emperor Honorious depicts Honorius feeding his pigeons, indifferent to the report of the fall of Rome.
In John William Waterhouse's composition, he depicts Honorius, the Roman empire, feeding birds. The birds are on a brown rug in front of him. The dark colors of the carpet and his clothes clearly define the space and separates him and the birds from the rest of the composition. The rest of the piece features councilors trying to seek his attention. The councilors, who the timid emperor had left to run the empire, were trying to get his reaction to the news of the peril of Rome. However, the kingdom seems to be focused on his birds and not at all fazed about the information. Ancient tales claim that Honorius was more fond of his birds than the affairs of the empire. The councilors are dressed in paler shades. The painting also features attendants to the emperor, who are also wrapped in lighter shades. John depicts the emperor as indecisive. His face in shadow is contrasted to the statue of Augustus in the background.
John William Waterhouse made several other paintings depicting characters of Green Mythology and Roman History. For instance, he created Mariamne Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod in 1887 and a Roman Offering in 1890. These were a few of his paintings where the single prominent character was a female. Waterhouse is highly acclaimed for his illustration of Roman history, literature, and mythological characters. The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius is currently part of the Art Gallery of South Australia's collection. The Gallery also owns Circle Invidiosa, another one of John William Waterhouse's masterpieces.