Napoleon Crossing the Alps

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Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps, 1801-1805

Jacques-Louis David's oil on canvas painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps, showcases the infamous French dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte. The work features Bonaparte on horseback, assuming a confident pose, donning an extravagant red cape billowing in the wind. In the background, soldiers march up the rocky mountain.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps was one in a series of five versions made between the 1801 and 1805. The first version was commissioned by the French ambassador to Spain; however, once Bonaparte got word of his portrait, he asked David to make three more versions. The fifth and final version of the work was made purely for David's enjoyment to express his support and honor for Bonaparte. Each version seems to look approximately the same, with mainly only the color tone in the background changing. However, Napoleon's pose and location on the canvas remains the same throughout the series.

Napoleon's gesture pointing upward is a sort of motif that appears in other works by David, such as The Oath of the Horatii, and The Death of Socrates. The position in which Napoleon hand rests in suggests an extreme amount of confidence in achieving his goal, and may possibly have some religious connotations. In addition, Napoleon's ungloved hand symbolizes his position as a leader or peacemaker rather than a conqueror. The rock inscriptions on the bottom left of the painting feature Napoleon's name, as well as Hannibal and Charlemagne, two other historically notable figures who led troops across the Alps.

This piece conveys a mixture of emotions for the viewer. Napoleon's confident stature contradicts the feeling one may experience from the cold brutality of the mountainous background. However one may feel about this painting, it remains apparent that Jacques-Louis David definitely thought highly of the dictator and battle commander.

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