Napoleon and History Painting: Antoine-Jean Gros's La Bataille D'Eylau

Napoleon and History Painting: Antoine-Jean Gros's La Bataille D'Eylau

Napoleon and History Painting: Antoine-Jean Gros's La Bataille D'Eylau

Napoleon and History Painting: Antoine-Jean Gros's La Bataille D'Eylau

Synopsis

This is the first full-length study of Antoine-Jean Gros from an art-historical point of view, but it is more than a monograph. It uses the example of Gros to examine a more general crisis of history painting at a time (the Napoleonic period) of major political and cultural transition.

Excerpt

My task as novelist? Restore that rogue ram,
That bad Colossus, to the symphonic program,
Dealing in hard particulars but still
Invoking what is always general
In music, the Napoleonic presence
And, contra punctum, music's formal essence--
As far as possible--if it can be done--
It can't of course--, and so on, and so on.

(Anthony Burgess, Napoleon Symphony)

The traces of Napoleon, both monumental and modest, in the public spaces of Paris and environs are legion. The typical itinerary would minimally take in the pont d'Iéna (with its insignia of bizarrely entwined eagle and crown), the Invalides, the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur (with its superb portrait by Gros of Bonaparte, premier consul), Malmaison, the Musée de Versailles, and, above all, the Louvre. I want to begin, however, with a detour from the conventional route, deferring, if only briefly, entry into its most important site (although it is there, in the company of one particular painting, that this book will principally stay). Instead, let us begin with a detail which we are likely to encounter only in aleatory fashion or with eyes peeled and nostrils flared in pursuit of high Napoleonic obsessions. Depending on how you exit from the Métro onto the place du Châtelet, you may find yourself facing a building, the Chambre des Notaires. On the façade there are four inscriptions, arranged in a neat rectangular design, commemorating four dates, four names, and four edicts (they refer to measures regulating the legal system and the legal profession, culminating in Napoleon's restoration of the notaries' guild, as part of the programme of reversing the abolition of the old corporations during the Revolution): '805 Capitulaire de Charle-

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