Behind The Art: Why was Jacques-Louis David’s painting ‘Napoleon Crossing the Alps’ considered a propaganda tool in 1801?


Sitting on a fiery horse with a gentle, collected look — this image of Napoleon is embedded in everyone’s heart. Five exact versions of this painting, which has been regarded as a popular image of French military leaders since 1801, were created by his loyal servant Jacques-Louis David until 1805. The first version of this painting is adorned in the Malmaison Castle in France. Some argue that this is the perfect promotional tool used by Napoleon, while others praise David’s ability to capture movement on the canvas. But what about this work of art, which skillfully praises the image of a French leader?

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Why was the picture drawn?

France has emerged as a major power after the uncertainties of the decade after the revolution. Napoleon played a major role in the fight against the revolutionary government. He became virtually the most powerful person in the country, and at some point even declared himself an emperor. In 1800, he led troops across the Alps in a campaign against Austrians and was defeated in the Battle of Marengo. People often ignore the known fact that Napoleon did not actually lead his army and simply followed a few days later. In fact, he traveled the narrow road behind the mule and, unlike his army, did not face any difficulties. But obviously, at that point, no one cares or didn’t know the fact. The King of Spain commissioned a portrait of Napoleon and wanted to hang it in the gallery along with portraits of other military leaders to praise his attempt at the war.

The King of Spain requested a portrait of Napoleon and wanted to hang it in the gallery along with portraits of other military leaders. (Photo: Instagram / @ arthistory_curated)


The first version of the painting was completed in 1801 in four months, but Napoleon simply refused to support David in painting portraits. He didn’t want to sit down because of that.No one knows if the portraits of great men resemble them. It is enough for their genius to live there.“. However, Napoleon told David to paint a portrait of a fiery horse. The painter had to use the previous portrait as an example, using the uniform worn by Napoleon at the Battle of Marengo as a reference point. But that alone is not enough for any artist to work with. David eventually had to ask his son to stand on a ladder and pose in Napoleon’s uniform. This describes the youthful physique of the person in the picture. David used a different style of painting than his predecessors François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Painters used a red or gray undercoat as the base color for painting. In this painting, David instead uses a white canvas background beneath his color. He used two or three layers to paint this masterpiece. He used a brush with a small paint on the first layer to give the painting a light touch. The second layer is for detailing and the third layer is for finishing and smoothing the surface. It is his assistant who often works in the third layer to help finish the painting.

Spectacular results

David was given Napoleon the status of the premier peintre of the king (first painter), and the French leader was so obsessed with the painting that he ordered him to make three more copies for him. rice field. But why did you like this picture so much? To show authority and power, Napoleon is shown straddling the breeding Arabian stallion. To his left, you can see the mountains and French troops carrying a large canon. Napoleon’s gloveless hand points to the invisible summit, there are more clouds in the background of the photo, and his cloak is flying in the sky.

This is done to stabilize the image of the viewer’s eye leader. Another technique used by David is to engrave Napoleon’s name along with the names of Hannibal and Charlemagne. This is two other famous figures who led the army across the Alps. The main focus is on the majestic horse and the person sitting on it. It shows how important Napoleon is and how his work is told over the centuries. In fact, David was so absorbed in his work that he made the fifth copy that remained in the studio. Other paintings were displayed in Madrid, two in Paris and one in Milan.

It is actually a very rare event for an artist to make several exact copies of one portrait. It is usually the student who makes a copy of the picture for learning purposes. In this case, thanks to Napoleon’s vanity and the need to spread his own publicity, he was made several portraits of him and hung all over Europe to show off his power for centuries. I confirmed that it was there. The portrait is really fun to see, and the credit goes to the maker of it.

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