Sunday, November 18, 2012

NAPOLEON CROSSING THE ALPS


 
 
Napoleon on Horseback at the St. Bernard Pass, 1800
Napoleon Crossing the Alps
Current Loc Musée national du château de Malmaison
R.M.N. Rueil-Malmaison, France
Source histoire-image.org
From wikimedia.org


Napoleon Crossing the Alps (also known as Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass or Bonaparte Crossing the Alps) is the title given to the five versions of an oil on canvas equestrian portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte painted by the French artist Jacques-Louis David between 1801 and 1805. Initially commissioned by the king of Spain, the composition shows a strongly idealized view of the real crossing that Napoleon and his army made across the Alps through the Great St. Bernard Pass in May 1800.
(Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Perhaps the most striking and memorable of the many hundreds of portraits of Napoleon, this is a potent allegory of power that conveys Napoleon’s mastery over man, beast and even nature. In the French painting tradition, the depiction of leaders on horseback was usually the reserve of royalty. David shows a Napoleon totally in command, the saviour of France from the political instability of the post-Revolutionary period. David painted five versions of this portrait.
(vic.gov.au)
 

Charlottenburg version, 1800
Current Loc Charlottenburg Palace
Source The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei
From wikimedia.org


Belevedere version, 1800
Current Loc Kunsthistorisches Museum
Source The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei
From wikimedia.org
 

First Versailles version, 1801
From wikimedia.org


Second Versailles version, circa 1804
Current Loc Palace of Versailles
From wikimedia.org


Having taken power in France during the 18 Brumaire on 9 November 1799, Napoleon determined to return to Italy to reinforce the French troops in the country and retake the territory seized by the Austrians in the preceding years. In the spring of 1800 he led the Reserve Army across the Alps through the Great St. Bernard Pass. The Austrian forces, under Michael von Melas, were laying siege to Masséna in Genoa and Napoleon hoped to gain the element of surprise by taking the trans-Alpine route.
By the time Napoleon's troops arrived, Genoa had fallen; but he pushed ahead, hoping to engage the Austrians before they could regroup. The Reserve Army fought a battle at Montebello on 9 June before eventually securing a decisive victory at the Battle of Marengo.
The installation of Napoleon as First Consul and the French victory in Italy allowed for a rapprochement with Charles IV of Spain. While talks were underway to re-establish diplomatic relations, a traditional exchange of gifts took place. Charles received Versailles-manufactured pistols, dresses from the best Parisian dressmakers, jewels for the queen, and a fine set of armour for the newly reappointed Prime Minister, Manuel Godoy. In return Napoleon was offered sixteen Spanish horses from the royal stables, portraits of the king and queen by Goya, and the portrait that was to be commissioned from David.
The French ambassador to Spain, Charles-Jean-Marie Alquier, requested the original painting from David on Charles' behalf. The portrait was to hang in the Royal Palace of Madrid as a token of the new relationship between the two countries. David, who had been an ardent supporter of the Revolution but had transferred his fervour to the new Consulate, was eager to undertake the commission. On learning of the request, Bonaparte instructed David to produce three further versions: one for the Château de Saint-Cloud, one for the library of Les Invalides, and a third for the palace of the Cisalpine Republic in Milan. A fifth version was produced by David and remained in various of his workshops until his death.
(Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Napoleon is illustrated as winner in the picture. This picture is also described as “propaganda painting”, because Napoleon is illustrated some weeks before his victory over the Austrian troops. The picture is created during the second coalition war. The crossing over the Alps happened in another way in the reality. Napoleon stretches his right arm victoriously upwards. His horse raises the front hoofs.
(art-bronze-sculptures.com)
Napoleon is known principally as a man of war, perhaps the greatest commander the world has ever seen. He swept a whole generation headlong into ever more bloody battles. Forged by the military, war was his craft and held no terrors for him. In his age it was very much part of the portfolio for a Head of State. Numerous accounts survive of Napoleon’s courage in the thick of action. Frequently in the front line and even leading the assault on occasions, he was thrice wounded …. Scornful of danger, he was intolerant of fear in others. ‘Death is nothing, but to live defeated and abject is to die every day’, he said.
(Thierry Lentz in Napoleon, Revolution to Empire, Catalogue, NGV)
Following his elevation to Emperor, Napoleon continued to triumph over the Coalition of European nations that declared war on him and on whom he in turn declared war. These Napoleonic Wars (from 1803 -1814) at first brilliantly successful, saw Napoleon conquer most of Europe, only to be undone by hubris. His invasion of both Spain and Russia (the latter especially) were ill-judged and proved fatal to Napoleon’s reign. The retreat from Moscow in 1812, when most of his army perished and his “allies” turned against him, was the beginning of the end. He failed to anticipate the rise of Nationalism among his European neighbors – and the negative impact of forced Coalitions. Forced to abdicate in 1814, he returned from exile on Elba to stage one last valiant attempt to regain power and Empire. In his famed One Hundred Days, Napoleon again launched himself into war with England and Europe, but this now legendary Battle of Waterloo was his last. His exile to St Helena ensured the end of his powers. It has been argued that Napoleon was a military genius, revolutionizing warfare, deploying innovative tactical maneuvers - and conducting it on an unprecedented scale thanks to mass conscription. He arguably created Modern Warfare both in scale and conduct. (vic.gov.au)
During the century that followed Jacques Louis David’s death, three forces struggled for position in French art; classicism, romanticism, and realism. But their initial struggle took place in the art of David. His heroic style, suppressing passion beneath a hard chilly surface, made him the artistic dictator of Europe. Louis XVI, Robespierre, and Bonaparte were united in admiration of David. He emerges from most biographies as one of the least sympathetic personalities in the history of art, an impression not mitigated, for most people, by his painting, which they find as hard and chilling as the man.
Such judgment is somewhat superficial, as there is endless fascination under a layer of iciness. David began his career as a protege of the state under Louis XVI, continued it as a powerful figure in the Revolutionary government, went on from there to become the grand old man of French painting as a favorite of Napoleon’s, and in the process redirected the course of French art at just the time when Paris was emerging as the art center of Europe. Something of a political chameleon, he holds a record for adaptive longevity under hazardous circumstances.
(blog.arthou.com)
 
 

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