Thursday, November 19, 2009

Going for a swim?

Ah, Bonaparte on the Bridge of Arcole, Antoine-Jean Gros's most famous work, and one of the earliest bits of propaganda for the Napoleonic legend! This portrait of Napoleon, looking much more handsome than he probably was in real life, leads the way across the bridge at Arcole to seize Austrian Italy and set up numerous sister republics within a more-or-less benevolent system of French cultural hegemony. Note how the zeitgeist of the era disorders his hair and how he moves forward, sword extended, carrying the French flag of quasi-republicanism and cultural dominance.

Please also note that, instead of tearing through the mist with sword and flag upraised, the future Emperor actually fell off the bridge at Arcole and into a swampy canal where he would have drowned had he not been fished out, with quite a lot of difficulty, by his panicked aides-de-camp.


  1. Ahahaha, this makes my day. I wish we had propagada in the form of oil paintings nowadays. Do you suppose Gros would have depicted Bush the Younger aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln under the "Mission Accomplished" banner with windswept tresses and a phallic weapon in hand?

  2. Sorry for the extremely late reply on this- I believe so, as long as Bush had the same taste in ordering arists to stick to his iconographic ideals! Napoleon was reportedly a tyrant with painters.