Bonaparte Crossing the Alps

Bonaparte Crossing the Alps (also called Napoleon Crossing the Alps, despite the existence of another, more well-known painting with that name) is an 1848–1850[1] oil-on-canvas portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, by French artist Paul Delaroche.[2][3] The painting depicts Bonaparte leading his army through the Alps on a mule,[I] a journey Napoleon and his army of soldiers made in the spring of 1800,[4] in an attempt to surprise the Austrian army in Italy.[5][6] The two main versions of this painting that exist are in the Louvre in Paris and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England. Queen Victoria also obtained a reduced version of it.[7]

The work was inspired by Jacques-Louis David's series of five Napoleon Crossing the Alps paintings (1801–1805). David's works also show Napoleon's journey through the Great St. Bernard Pass, but there are significant stylistic differences between the two conceptions. Delaroche's Napoleon is cold and downcast, whereas David's wears a pristine uniform, and is idealized as a hero. Delaroche was commissioned to paint a realistic portrait; the style of which was emerging at the time.[1][8]

While the painting largely represented—and was one of the pioneers of—an emerging style, the work was criticised by several authorities on the subject. The reasons for this varied from Delaroche's depiction of the scene to a general disapproval of Delaroche himself. Many of those who were in the latter state of mind felt that Delaroche was trying to match the genius of Napoleon in some way, and had failed miserably in doing so.[9]

Bonaparte Crossing the Alps
Paul Delaroche - Napoleon Crossing the Alps - Google Art Project 2
ArtistPaul Delaroche
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions289 cm × 222 cm (114 in × 87 in)
LocationSt James's Palace, London, England


Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau 001
Battle of the Pyramids (1798–1799) by Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau depicts the battle of the same name, which occurred during Napoleon's Egyptian campaign.

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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13][14]

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.[15][16][17][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.[15]

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.[1]


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.[18] He 'combined colouristic skill with an interest in detailed scenes from history'.[19]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 Crossing the Alps because he felt that he both looked like Napoleon, and that his achievements were comparable to Napoleon's.[2] It is likely that Delaroche's painting is relatively historically accurate; details such as Napoleon's clothes appear to have been researched by Delaroche in an effort at authenticity.[9]


David - Napoleon crossing the Alps - Malmaison2
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 Louvre in Paris, where they saw David's version of the famous event. It had only recently been re-hung in the museum after a resurgence of interest in Napoleon, nearly 40 years after he was exiled.[IV] Agreeing that the painting was unrealistic, George, who owned a sizable collection of Napoleonic paraphernalia, commissioned Delaroche to create a more realistic depiction.[20] Elizabeth Foucart-Walker asserts that in fact the painting that hangs in the Louvre was produced first as it was already in America by 1850, when the Liverpool painting was produced. Stephen Bann suggests that Arthur George's meeting with Delaroche may have occurred, but Delaroche chose to produce two works that are almost identical and send one to America.[21] The Liverpool version of the painting is more refined.

Contrast to David's depiction

The contrast between Jacques-Louis David's depiction of the same scene (of Napoleon traversing the Alps on his way to Italy), which was a flattering portrait that the king of Spain requested[22][V] for Napoleon[23] (as a gift) and Delaroche's depiction in Bonaparte Crossing the Alps is easily apparent. The first and most significant difference is in Napoleon, in his clothing, and in his general stature. David's version depicts Napoleon, dressed in an immaculate, multi-coloured uniform with a billowing cape. Delaroche's version, however, sees Napoleon in a fairly ordinary, gray coat with the sole purpose of keeping the cold away, rather than showing him as the symbol he may have represented - that of a gallant and powerful war leader, which is the impression given in David's version. However, there is another significant difference in Napoleon himself, in the way he holds himself. David's Napoleon is flamboyant,[23] confident in his leadership of the French army, and in his ability to cross the Alps and defeat the Austrians in Italy. Delaroche's Napoleon is instead downcast, gaunt and embittered by the harsh cold. His eyes and expressionless face evidence his weariness, his tiredness a result of the long and unstable trek. The last properly significant difference in the two art works (excluding the actual setting, background, men seen in the distance etc.) is the difference in the animals that Napoleon rides on. In David's version, Napoleon rides a large, strong steed with a long mane, and this is one figment of David's version that is irrefutably untrue - Napoleon is known to have ridden a mule on his journey (which was borrowed from a local peasant),[1] rather than a horse.[16][24] This presence of a horse rather than a mule was one of the most major grounds for Delaroche's criticism of David's version, and is the basis of Delaroche's claim that Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, which includes a mule, is a more realistic portrayal of the scene.



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![25]

— 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.[8] 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,[12][26] 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 Alps are apparent: distant mountains capped in snow rise up behind Napoleon and his troupe, while a steep cliff face appears on his left, and the path underfoot has a thick layer of ice. More members of Napoleon's entourage can be seen slightly behind him, their robust figures accentuating Bonaparte's fragility.[8]

Napoleon is shown to be as he would have been high up in the mountains, as a mortal and imperilled man. While this seems in some way demeaning to Napoleon's figure (and contrasts in the extreme with David's version, which shows Napoleon impervious to the cold, and in a heroic light), Delaroche's artwork was not intended to portray him in a hostile or unbecoming way. Delaroche wanted to depict Napoleon as a credible man, who suffered and underwent human hardship too, on his most daring exploits, and felt that making him appear as he really would have been in the situation would by no means debase or diminish Napoleon's iconic status or legacy, but rather make him a more admirable person.[2]

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.[8] 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'.[9] 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.[1]


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.[9]

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.[27] 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.[9]

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.[28]



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.

David - Napoleon crossing the Alps - Malmaison1 detail2

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)[29] 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.[30][31]
  • 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 artillery.[32]
  • 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 accurately estimated).[33]
  • 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 Louvre around 1815, David's version had been re-hung by the time Delaroche observed it.[9]
  • V^ The king of Spain (of the time) commissioned Jacques-Louis David's Napoleon Crossing the Alps as a friendly gesture towards Napoleon, hoping that the flattering gift would strengthen relationships between France and Spain, to the degree that Napoleon would not consider invading Spain and taking it over, after he became emperor. However, the king of Spain's attempt failed, and, soon after Napoleon crowned himself emperor, he crossed the Pyrenees and conquered Spain.[22]
  • VI^ The Athenæum was a widely read literary magazine or periodical that was published in London between 1828 and 1923. Published weekly,[34] the Athenæum grew and expanded to become one of the most influential and most widely read periodical of the Victorian era. Most of its content was composed of articles, reviews, and scientific and political news, among others.[27] The topics covered in these texts included works of literature, fine art, music and theatre, science and politics.[34]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b c "DELAROCHE, Paul - Bonaparte Crossing the Alps". Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  3. ^ "Bonaparte Crossing the Alps 1848". Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  4. ^ Kelley, T.M. p.207
  5. ^ Britt, A.B. p.18
  6. ^ The American Whig Review p.455
  7. ^ Bann, Stephen, 'Delaroche, Napoleon and English Collectors', Apollo, October 2005, 28
  8. ^ a b c d Quilley, Geoff; Bonehill, John p.172
  9. ^ a b c d e f Further reading - Archived June 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 6 August 2007
  10. ^ El-Enany, R.; Inc NetLibrary, p. 15
  11. ^ Clancy-Smith, J.A., p. 96
  12. ^ a b "Napoleon's Crossing over the Great St. Bernard Pass". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  13. ^ Dodge, T.A. p.23
  14. ^ Alison, Archibald p.26
  15. ^ a b "History of the Great St Bernard pass". Archived from the original on 8 December 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  16. ^ a b Herold, J.C. p.134
  17. ^ Thiers, M.A. p.118
  18. ^ "The Death of Elizabeth I, Queen of England (source on Delaroche's style)". Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  19. ^ Walther, I.F.; Suckale, R. p.420
  20. ^ "Artwork of the Month (Jan. 2006) at liverpoolmuseums". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  21. ^ Bann, Stephen, 'Delaroche, Napoleon and English Collectors, Apollo, October, 2005, 30
  22. ^ a b "Napoleon's Rise To Power At Clark". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  23. ^ a b "'Napoleon crossing the Alps' 1850". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  24. ^ Chandler, D. G. p.51.
  25. ^ Tuckerman, H.T. p.166
  26. ^ "Correspondance de Napoléon - Octobre 1801" (in French). Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  27. ^ a b "The Athenæum". Retrieved 9 August 2007.
  28. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine p.779
  29. ^ The American Whig Review, p.456
  30. ^ Clubbe, J., p.103
  31. ^ Abbott, J. S. C., p.4
  32. ^ Bunbury, H.E., p.61
  33. ^ Smith, D. The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book. Greenhill Books, 1998.
  34. ^ a b "The Athenaeum Projects: Overview". Retrieved 9 August 2007.


  • Abbot, J. S. C. Napoleon Bonaparte. Kessinger Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-4191-3657-7
  • 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. ISBN 0-7570-0154-8.
  • 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. ISBN 0-7146-5170-2
  • 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. ISBN 0-415-33217-6
  • Foucart-Walter, E. Paul Delaroche et le thème du passage du Saint-Bernard par Bonaparte pp. 367–384 in La Revue du Louvre No 5-6 1984
  • Herold, J.C. The Age of Napoleon . Houghton Mifflin Books, 2002. ISBN 0-618-15461-2.
  • Jefferies, F. The Gentleman's Magazine. Published 1856.
  • Kelley, T.M. Reinventing Allegory. Cambridge University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-521-43207-3
  • The American Whig Review, by the Making of America Project. Published first in 1845.
  • Mason, D.S. Revolutionary Europe, 1789-1989: Liberty, Equality, Solidarity. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. ISBN 0-7425-3769-2
  • Murray, C.J. Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850. Taylor & Francis, 2004. ISBN 1-57958-422-5
  • Quilley, G.; Bonehill, J. Conflicting Visions: War and Visual Culture in Britain and France, C. 1700-1830 Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2005. ISBN 0-7546-0575-2.
  • Thiers, M.A. History of the Consulate and the Empire of France Under Napoleon. Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-4179-5621-6.
  • Tuckerman, H.T. Poems. Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1851.
  • Walther, I.F.; Suckale, R. Masterpieces of Western Art: A History of Art in 900 Individual Studies Taschen, 2002.

External links

1850 in art

Events from the year 1850 in art.

Alphonse François

Alphonse François (25 August 1814, Paris - 7 July 1888, Paris) was a French engraver.

Alpine route

An alpine route is a trail or climbing route through difficult terrain in high mountains such as the Alps, sometimes with no obvious path. In the Alps, the Alpine clubs define and mark an Alpine Route, also called Alpinweg or Alpinwanderweg (Alpine hiking trail).

More generally, the term is used for routes of crossing the Alps, such as Roman crossings and Napoleon crossing the Alps. It is also used to describe routes (trails, roads and railroads) in other mountains with alpine conditions.

Arthur Onslow, 3rd Earl of Onslow

Arthur George Onslow, 3rd Earl of Onslow (25 October 1777-October 1870) was a British peer. He was the eldest child of the 2nd Earl and his wife Arabella Mainwaring-Ellerker (died 1782).

On 21 July 1818 he married Mary Fludyer, eldest daughter of George Fludyer of Ayston, County Rutland, esquire and of Lady Margaret Fane, daughter of the 9th Earl of Westmoreland. They had two children -

Mary Augusta (b. 4 June 1819)

Arthur George (16 June 1820 - 2 August 1856, predeceased), married 1 August 1850 Lady Katherine Anne Cust (born 1822), 4th daughter of John, 1st Earl Brownlow. They had 3 daughters.The 3rd Earl's wife predeceased him on 1 March 1830. His son died without surviving male issue of his own. On the Earl's death the Earl was succeeded by his grandnephew, William (b. 1853).

He had a large Napoleonic collection and reportedly, on visiting the Louvre with Paul Delaroche in 1848, he commented on the implausibility and theatricality of David's painting Napoleon Crossing the Alps. He commissioned Delaroche to produce a more accurate version which featured Napoleon on a mule, entitled Bonaparte Crossing the Alps. Two versions survive, one at Liverpool and one at the Louvre. Elizabeth Foucart-Walker asserts that in fact the Louvre version of the ensuing work was produced first as it was already in America by 1850, when the Liverpool painting was produced. Stephen Bann suggests that Arthur George's meeting with Delaroche may have occurred, but Delaroche chose to produce two works that are almost identical and send one to America.

Great St Bernard Pass

Great St Bernard Pass (French: Col du Grand St-Bernard, Italian: Colle del Gran San Bernardo, German: Grosser Sankt Bernhard; 2,469 m (8,100 ft)) is the third highest road pass in Switzerland. It connects Martigny in the canton of Valais in Switzerland with Aosta in the region Aosta Valley in Italy. It is the lowest pass lying on the ridge between the two highest mountains of the Alps, Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa. The pass itself is located in Switzerland in the canton of Valais, very close to Italy. It is located on the main watershed that separates the basin of the Rhône from that of the Po.Great St Bernard is one of the most ancient passes through the Western Alps, with evidence of use as far back as the Bronze Age and surviving traces of a Roman road. In 1800, Napoleon's army used the pass to enter Italy, an event depicted in Jacques-Louis David's Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass and Hippolyte Delaroche's Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, both notable oil paintings. Having been bypassed by easier and more practical routes, particularly the Great St Bernard Tunnel which opened in 1964, its value today is mainly historical and recreational.

Straddling the highest point of the road, the Great St Bernard Hospice was founded in 1049. The hospice later became famous for its use of St Bernard dogs in rescue operations.


Napoléon Bonaparte (, French: [napɔleɔ̃ bɔnɑpaʁt]; Italian: Napoleone Buonaparte; 15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French statesman and military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.He was born Napoleone di Buonaparte (Italian: [napoleˈoːne di ˌbwɔnaˈparte]) in Corsica to a relatively modest family of Italian origin from minor nobility. He was serving as an artillery officer in the French army when the French Revolution erupted in 1789. He rapidly rose through the ranks of the military, seizing the new opportunities presented by the Revolution and becoming a general at age 24. The French Directory eventually gave him command of the Army of Italy after he suppressed a revolt against the government from royalist insurgents. At age 26, he began his first military campaign against the Austrians and the Italian monarchs aligned with the Habsburgs—winning virtually every battle, conquering the Italian Peninsula in a year while establishing "sister republics" with local support, and becoming a war hero in France. In 1798, he led a military expedition to Egypt that served as a springboard to political power. He orchestrated a coup in November 1799 and became First Consul of the Republic. His ambition and public approval inspired him to go further, and he became the first Emperor of the French in 1804. Intractable differences with the British meant that the French were facing a Third Coalition by 1805. Napoleon shattered this coalition with decisive victories in the Ulm Campaign and a historic triumph over the Russian Empire and Austrian Empire at the Battle of Austerlitz which led to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1806, the Fourth Coalition took up arms against him because Prussia became worried about growing French influence on the continent. Napoleon quickly defeated Prussia at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt, then marched his Grande Armée deep into Eastern Europe and annihilated the Russians in June 1807 at the Battle of Friedland. France then forced the defeated nations of the Fourth Coalition to sign the Treaties of Tilsit in July 1807, bringing an uneasy peace to the continent. Tilsit signified the high-water mark of the French Empire. In 1809, the Austrians and the British challenged the French again during the War of the Fifth Coalition, but Napoleon solidified his grip over Europe after triumphing at the Battle of Wagram in July.

Napoleon then invaded the Iberian Peninsula, hoping to extend the Continental System and choke off British trade with the European mainland, and declared his brother Joseph Bonaparte the King of Spain in 1808. The Spanish and the Portuguese revolted with British support. The Peninsular War lasted six years, featured extensive guerrilla warfare, and ended in victory for the Allies against Napoleon. The Continental System caused recurring diplomatic conflicts between France and its client states, especially Russia. The Russians were unwilling to bear the economic consequences of reduced trade and routinely violated the Continental System, enticing Napoleon into another war. The French launched a major invasion of Russia in the summer of 1812. The campaign destroyed Russian cities, but did not yield the decisive victory Napoleon wanted. It resulted in the collapse of the Grande Armée and inspired a renewed push against Napoleon by his enemies. In 1813, Prussia and Austria joined Russian forces in the War of the Sixth Coalition against France. A lengthy military campaign culminated in a large Allied army defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, but his tactical victory at the minor Battle of Hanau allowed retreat onto French soil. The Allies then invaded France and captured Paris in the spring of 1814, forcing Napoleon to abdicate in April. He was exiled to the island of Elba off the coast of Tuscany, and the Bourbon dynasty was restored to power. However, Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815 and took control of France once again. The Allies responded by forming a Seventh Coalition which defeated him at the Battle of Waterloo in June. The British exiled him to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died six years later at the age of 51.

Napoleon's influence on the modern world brought liberal reforms to the numerous territories that he conquered and controlled, such as the Low Countries, Switzerland, and large parts of modern Italy and Germany. He implemented fundamental liberal policies in France and throughout Western Europe. His Napoleonic Code has influenced the legal systems of more than 70 nations around the world. British historian Andrew Roberts states: "The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire".

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (also known as Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass or Bonaparte Crossing the Alps; listed as Le Premier Consul franchissant les Alpes au col du Grand Saint-Bernard) 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.

Napoleonic propaganda

During his rise to power and throughout his reign, Napoleon not only benefitted from circumstance but also cultivated his own image through the use of propaganda. Napoleon excelled at garnering public support and capitalizing on his victories to convey a persona associated with success and heroism. He utilized propaganda in a wide range of media including theater, art, newspapers and bulletins to “promote the precise image he desired.” Napoleon’s bulletins from the battlefield were published in newspapers and were well read throughout the country. He used these publications to exaggerate his victories and spread his glorified interpretation of these successes throughout France.

Paul Delaroche

Paul Delaroche (Paris, 17 July 1797 – 4 November 1856) was a French painter who achieved his greater successes painting historical scenes. He became famous in Europe for his melodramatic depictions that often portrayed subjects from English and French history. The emotions emphasised in Delaroche's paintings appeal to Romanticism while the detail of his work along with the deglorified portrayal of historic figures follow the trends of Academicism and Neoclassicism. Delaroche aimed to depict his subjects and history with pragmatic realism. He did not consider popular ideals and norms in his creations, but rather painted all his subjects in the same light whether they were historical figures, founders of Christianity, or real people of his time like Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie-Antoinette. Delaroche was a leading pupil of Antoine-Jean Gros and later mentored a number of notable artists like Thomas Couture, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and Francisque Millet.

Delaroche was born into a generation that saw the stylistic conflicts between Romanticism and Davidian Classicism. Davidian Classicism was widely accepted and enjoyed by society so as a developing artist at the time of the introduction of Romanticism in Paris, Delaroche found his place between the two movements. Subjects from Delaroche’s medieval and sixteenth and seventeenth-century history paintings appealed to Romantics while the accuracy of information along with the highly finished surfaces of his paintings appealed to Academics and Neoclassicism. Delaroche’s works completed in the early 1830s most reflected the position he took between the two movements and were admired by contemporary artists of the time—the Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833; National Gallery, London) was the most acclaimed of Delaroche’s paintings in its day. Later in the 1830s, Delaroche exhibited the first of his major religious works. His change of subject and “the painting’s austere manner” were ill-received by critics and after 1837, he stopped exhibiting his work altogether. At the time of his death in 1856, he was painting a series of four scenes from the Life of the Virgin. Only one work from this series was completed: the Virgin Contemplating the Crown of Thorns.

Pierre Nicholas Dorsaz

Pierre Nicholas Dorsaz (fl. 19th century), was an inhabitant of the village of Bourg-Saint-Pierre who acted as Napoleon Bonaparte's guide when he crossed the Alps in 1800, by way of the Great St Bernard Pass, as part of his plan to make an unexpected arrival in Italy, and surprise the Austrian army.There is some difficulty in ascertaining Dorsaz's forenames. Napoleon's official correspondence refers to him as "Pierre Nicholas", but other accounts call him Jean Pierre Dorsaz and in Émile Bégin's 1853 Histoire de Napoleon he is named as Jean Baptiste Dorsaz. Bégin states Dorsaz was a relative of Jean Nicholas Dorsaz, the secretary of the commune, who related the story to Bégin in 1851.The journey itself took place after Napoleon returned from his military campaign in Egypt at the turn of the 19th century, to find that the Austrians had been able to reconquer Italy. Napoleon's plan was to cross to Italy with his army of over forty thousand men to launch a surprise assault on the Austrian army (thirty five thousand light artillery and infantry, five thousand cavalry, not including heavy field artillery such as large cannons and baggage trains).

The journey through the Great St Bernard Pass (which was, after thorough consideration, decided to be the best possible route through the harsh Alps), commenced on the 15 May 1800 and took five days.Initially Napoleon and Dorsaz did not converse, but shortly after they started their ascent into the mountains the mule carrying Napoleon slipped on the icy ground and almost fell over a precipice. Dorsaz, walking between the mule and the edge of the track was able to prevent Napoleon and his mount tumbling over the side and though Napoleon showed no emotion at his lucky escape, he entered into conversation with his guide. It appears that the First Consul was determined to reward his guide for his actions as he questioned Dorsaz about his life in the village and the normal recompense for the guides. Dorsaz told Napoleon that the normal fee for the guides was three francs. Bégin recounts that Dorsaz said that his dream was to have a small farm, a field and cow. Napoleon asked him how much that would cost and when Dorsaz replied it would be 60 Louis he was given the money directly, but Napoleon's correspondence shows that he ordered 1200 francs to be paid to Dorsaz on 21 October 1800 for his "zeal and devotion to his task" during the crossing of the Alps, and other sources say this money was used to purchase a house for Dorsaz in Bourg-Saint-Pierre. Local legend also credits the money with securing Dorsaz a wife, as without a house he was unable to marry the girl he was in love with.

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