Saturday, January 26, 2013

As Napoleon’s position rose from First Consul to that of Emperor, he demanded art that legitimised his power and glorified the Empire. He commissioned many images of himself as statesman, tireless administrator, military genius and semi-divine monarch. Napoleon’s deeds were turned into the stuff of heroic legend: leading conquering armies across the mountains, and visiting the wounded or plague-stricken. Many portraits immortalised both Napoleon and his extended family. In this image Goubaud shows Napoleon clad in symbols of power. He is dressed in an imperial mantle atop a globe, crowned with a laurel wreath and holding a sceptre topped with the Hand of Justice, the dark clouds of destiny swirling around him. 

Napoleon – Master of Propaganda

As a shrewd strategist and politician – a master of managing appearances to manipulate opinion – Napoleon realised the potential of great works of art to instill in hearts and minds the validity and might of the Empire and his authority to lead. Napoleon took the Classical revival of the 1790s, originally used to promote the Republican values of austerity, citizenship, self-sacrifice and duty, and used it to promote his own achievements as Emperor.

Jacques-Louis David undertook a number of patently propagandist commissions for Napoleon: Napoleon at the St Bernard Pass 1801 compared Napoleon to Hannibal and Charlemagne. Napoleon in his Study 1808 depicted the First Consul hard at work in the early hours of morning, for the good of the nation. David also portrayed the coronation in 1804, emphasising the physical splendour of Napoleon and his court, the richness of ceremony and allusions to the grand characters and traditions of the past.

David’s pupil Antoine-Jean Gros accompanied Napoleon’s campaigns and represented his deeds as close to superhuman: General Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole on 17 November 1796 1796 showed the Italian Campaign as an effortless triumph; Napoleon visiting the plague victims at Jaffa 1804 paralleled Napoleon with Christ aiding the sick; and Napoleon at the Battle of Eylau 1807 showed the Emperor comforting the dying.

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