Bonaparte Crossing the
1.1 Historical background 1.2 Delaroche
2.1 Commissioning of painting 2.2 Contrast to David's depiction
3.1 Setting 3.2 Artistic style
4 Reception 5 Gallery 6 Notes 7 Citations 8 References 9 External links
Battle of the Pyramids
Historical background As part of his 1798 campaign during the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleon prepared to invade and conquer Egypt, which was at the time a province of the Ottoman Empire. Such a military action promised numerous benefits, including securing French trade interests, and inhibiting British access to India. By 1 July 1798, Napoleon had landed on the shores of Egypt. After a lengthy chain of conflicts with heavy casualties, the campaign resulted in an Ottoman-British victory. Napoleon received news from France that Austrian forces had retaken Italy and he decided to return to Paris. In order to regain the upper hand, he planned to launch a surprise assault on the Austrian army stationed in the Cisalpine Republic. Based on the assumption the Austrians would never expect Napoleon's large force to be able to traverse the Alps, he chose that as his route. He selected the shortest route through the Alps, the Great St Bernard Pass, which would enable him to reach his destination as quickly as possible. On 15 May 1800, Napoleon and his army of 40,000—not including the field artillery and baggage trains—(35,000 light artillery and infantry, 5,000 cavalry) began the arduous journey through the mountains.[II] During the five days spent traversing the pass, Napoleon's army consumed almost 22,000 bottles of wine, more than a tonne and a half of cheese, and around 800 kilograms of meat.
Delaroche's "Napoléon abdiquant à Fontainebleau" ("Napoléon abdicated in Fontainebleau"), 1845 oil-on-canvas.
Following his crossing of the Alps, Napoleon commenced military
operations against the Austrian army. Despite an inauspicious start to
the campaign, the Austrian forces were driven back to Marengo after
nearly a month. There, a large battle took place on 14 June, which
resulted in the Austrian evacuation of Italy.
Delaroche's early works had been based on topics from the Bible's Old
Testament, but gradually his interests switched to painting scenes
from English and French history. He 'combined colouristic skill
with an interest in detailed scenes from history'.Bonaparte
Crossing the Alps, which was painted roughly eight years before
Delaroche's death, exemplifies this phase in Delaroche's career.
The commissioning aside, Delaroche was inspired to create Bonaparte
Jacques-Louis David's version of the scene differs a great deal from Delaroche's idea of Napoleon's crossing of the Alps.
Commissioning of painting
The Liverpool painting was commissioned by Arthur George, Third Earl
of Onslow, after Delaroche and George reportedly visited the
Delaroche's picture of Napoleon crossing the Alps
Unconscious of the dreary wastes around, Of sleet that pierces with each fitful blast, The icy peaks, the rough and treacherous ground, Huge snow-drifts by the whirlwind's breath amassed, Through which the jaded mule with noiseless tread, Patient and slow, a certain foothold seeks, By the old peasant-guide so meekly led; Moves the wan conqueror, with sunken cheeks, O'er heights as cold and lonely as his soul,- The chill lips blandly set, and the dark eyes Intent with fierce ambition's vast control, Sad, keen and thoughtful of the distant prize; With the imperial robes and warlike steed, That face ne'er wore such blended might and need! — H.T. Tuckerman's poem, describing Delaroche's portrayal.
Napoleon is seen wearing clothing appropriate for his location: over
his uniform he wears a long topcoat which is wrapped firmly around
him, in which he keeps his gloveless right hand warm. He retains a
piece of his dignity in the gold-trimmed black bicorne he wears on his
head. The mule Napoleon rides is undernourished, tired from its
ordeal in struggling through the Alps. On the left of the mule is his
guide, Pierre Nicholas Dorsaz, who must constantly push
himself and the mule forward, and who leans heavily on the shaft of
wood he clutches in his left hand to allow himself to continue moving
forward. His clothes are weather-beaten, his face ruddy from the cold.
He is not allowed the luxury of riding an animal, for he must be able
to navigate independently, on the ground.
Elements of the cold, harsh environment of the
The amber light strikes Napoleon, introducing a level of contrast.
Artistic style Along with the mass of white seen behind Napoleon, the amber sunlight glow, originating from the West of Napoleon's troupe, is the central source of lighting in the painting. It introduces contrast when coupled with shadow, and, by illumination, highlights key aspects of the scene; this is particularly seen by the light that falls across Bonaparte's pigeon chest. Napoleon and the mule he is saddled on are richly textured visually by the contrasting light and shade, as is the guide leading the mule. The ice and snow layers, also, are made whiter by the sunshine from the West, brightening the whole scene. However, the overhanging cliff on the left of Napoleon's guide and the legs of the mule both cast shadows to balance the lighting scheme of the painting. The textural hues and schemes that Delaroche uses in this painting are quite detailed and well considered, especially in regards to the most important figures; such aspects of the work were described as being '...rendered with a fidelity that has not omitted the plait of a drapery, the shaggy texture of the four-footed animal, nor a detail of the harness on his back'. The mule, especially its fur, was intensely textured and detailed to make it look visually rough and bristly, and the mule itself weary and worn. The same techniques were applied to the red and yellow adornments draped and hung over the animal. The central detail of Napoleon is applied to his coat, in its ruffles and creases. Much detail and textural diversity is given to the guide too, most particularly to his face, his green, wind-caught tunic, and his leather boots. Delaroche's attention to detail and literal precision in this painting evidences and demonstrates the slow but steady evolution of realism in art during the 19th century, and how its popularity began to rise. Reception The work, despite its attempt to depict Napoleon realistically, was criticised by several authorities for a variety of reasons. A few disapproved of Delaroche's choice of painting, while others disapproved of Delaroche himself, saying, in some form, that he sought the genius of Napoleon, to no avail. Soon after its completion, the work was taken to England, and there, in 1850, it was reviewed by the critic of the Atheneum,[VI] a literary magazine. The magazine's comments on the work indicated that, while they praised the painting for several of its features, they criticised Delaroche, for various reasons:
An Officer in a French costume, mounted on a mule, is conducted by a rough peasant through a dangerous pass, whose traces are scarcely discernible through the deep-lying snow; and his aide-de-camp is just visible in a ravine of the towering Alps. These facts are rendered with a fidelity that has not omitted the plait of a drapery, the shaggy texture of the four-footed animal, nor a detail of the harness on his back. The drifting of the embedded snow, the pendent icicle which a solitary sun-ray in a transient moment has made-all are given with a truth which will be dear to those who exalt the Dutch School for like qualities into the foremost rank of excellence. But the lofty and daring genius that led the humble Lieutenant of Ajaccio to be ruler and arbiter of the destinies of the larger part of Europe will be sought in vain by M. Delaroche.
Some were displeased with Delaroche's work at the time in general, and, in part, Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, criticising what was described as his 'lowered standards in art'. Such critics included The Gentleman's Magazine, who wrote the following text about Delaroche:
These all reveal a modification in his style, but not a happy one. His more recent works are not calculated to restore him the sympathy he had lost. It must be confessed that Delaroche is an artist of talent rather than a genius. Education and diligent study qualified him to be a painter, but not an artist, in the true sense of that word. For he has failed in the true mission of the artist-that of advancing the education of the masses; when it was in his power to give an impulse, he yielded to it; he has been a reflection, but not a light; and instead of elevating the public to himself, he has lowered himself to the public.
Here, in David's version, Napoleon wears a colourful, pristine garb, complete with a billowing cape.
Napoleon's mule is led along by Napoleon's peasant guide. The effect of the amber light is again evident here.
Close detail of Napoleon's face, and that of his horse, from David's version.
I ^ Bonaparte chose to ride across the alps on a mule (obtained at a
convent at Martigny) rather than a steed, the typical gentleman's
mount at the time, because the mule was considered to be more
sure-footed on the slippery slopes and narrow passes of the Alps, and
to be more sturdy and hardy while making such a perilous journey on
such volatile terrain.
II ^ Napoleon ordered the assemblage of over 5,000 artillery for
transport through the pass, despite the fact that the pass was widely
considered to be much too narrow, and the route too volatile and
unstable, to allow any form of artillery, light or heavy, to come
through. Thus, Napoleons military advisers warned him against this
move, but he insisted on this presence of this great number of
III^ In addition to these figures, approximately 3,600 French men were
wounded, with over 900 captured or missing, and almost 5,520 Austrians
were wounded, with over 2,900 captured (missing numbers cannot be
IV^ The painting was rehung as a result of the revival of Napoleon's
reputation, and a fresh interest into his exploits. However, before
this, in 1815, the year Napoleon was exiled, Napoleonic-themed art was
proscribed for artists and painters, as he was not well liked because
of events that had occurred in the few years immediately preceding
1815, and Napoleon's exile. It was only truly by the 1830s that
artwork related to the emperor was being created once more. As such,
after being removed from the walls of the
^ a b c d e "'Napoleon Crossing the Alps', Paul Delaroche
(1797-1856)". Archived from the original on 22 November 2008.
Retrieved 11 August 2007.
^ a b c "DELAROCHE, Paul - Bonaparte Crossing the Alps". Retrieved 5
^ "Bonaparte Crossing the
Abbot, J. S. C. Napoleon Bonaparte. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
Alison, A. History of Europe from the Commencement of the French
Revolution in MDCCLXXXIX to the Restoration of the Bourbons in
MDCCCXV. W. Blackwood and sons, 1854.
Britt, A.B. The Wars of Napoleon. Square One Publishers, Inc., 2003.
Bunbury, H.E. Narratives of some passages in the great war with
France, from 1799 to 1810. 1854.
Chandler, D. G. Napoleon. Leo Cooper, 2002. ISBN 0-85052-750-3.
Clancy-Smith, J.A. North Africa, Islam and the Mediterranean World:
From the Almoravids to the Algerian War. Routledge, 2001.
Clubbe, J. Byron, Sully, and the Power of Portraiture. Ashgate
Publishing, Ltd., 2005. ISBN 0-7546-3814-6
Dodge, T.A. Napoleon: A History of the Art of War. Adamant Media
Corporation, 2001. ISBN 1-4021-9517-6
El-Enany, R.; Inc NetLibrary Arab Representations of the Occident
East-west Encounters in Arabic Fiction. Routledge, 2006.
DELAROCHE, Paul - Bonaparte Crossing the Alps
Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, 1848,
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Paul Delaroche.