Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A tale of two Napoleons [updated]

Delaroche - Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Two paintings of Napoleon Crossing the Alps—above by Paul Delaroche, below by Jacque Louis David.

David’s is majestic, energetic, imperial; Delaroche’s . . .  well, it’s just the opposite. David’s (painted during Napoleon’s reign) is neo-classical; Delaroche’s (painted four decades later) is naturalistic—almost journalistic: In David’s Napoleon commands a dashing charger; in Delaroche’s he sits on a mule.

If in Jacque Louis David’s version of the same subject you can see Napoleon’s imminent victory, in Delaroche’s you can see his long term defeat already etched into his very being.

But despite there being any number of reasons to celebrate Napoleon’s eventual defeat, David’s is still the better painting by far.

David - Napoleon Crossing the Alps 

UPDATE: Stephen Hicks has a revealing list of influential philosophic admirers of the French dictator:

    From Maynard Solomon’s Beethoven:

    bonaparte-dabos-apsley-house-75x98‘For Beethoven’s German and Austrian contemporaries, the Napoleonic image was especially potent: Bonaparte’s admirers included Kant, Herder, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schiller, Goethe, Hölderlin, Wielan, and Klopstock. Grillparzer, in his Autobiography wrote, ‘I myself was no less an enemy of the French than my father, and yet Napoleon fascinated me with a magic power … He put me under a spell, as a snake does a bird.’ (p. 134)

    “Why am I not surprised by that list of names? [asks Hicks.] Are there any military dictators they didn’t or wouldn’t admire?”


  1. It's funny how two people (of similar philosophy too) can have very different reactions to the same work of art.

    In Delaroche's work I see determination and persistence in Napolean's face. Someone who'll follow thru and get the job done, despite the hard conditions.

    In David's I see someone who's flighty, unstable, maybe a little bit vain. Even the horse look's like it's about to throw him off! A false and misplaced confidence that will eventually end in defeat.

  2. "It's funny how two people (of similar philosophy too) . . . "

    Ah, but now you've been exposed. Time for a denunciation, I think! ;^)

  3. Actually, when I came back a 2nd time I saw a bit more of what you saw....

    Does that save me from denunciation?

  4. No, too late. I've already started drawing up the papers.


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