There are hundreds of paintings, sketches, and comics influenced by the French Revolution and especially Napoleon Bonaparte.  Many of the paintings were painted by one artist, in particular. Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) was a neoclassical artist who was born in Paris, France.  He was an active supporter of the revolution and supported his friend, Robespierre, on his regime.  Napoleon even asked him to paint a portrait of him and David was so captivated by his personality that he was unable to finish the portrait.  However, David painted many paintings of him throughout his career.

Napoleon Crossing the St. Bernard Pass

Napoleon Crossing the St. Bernard Pass, 1800

David’s painting, Napoleon Crossing the St. Bernard Pass, displays Napoleon gallantly riding into battle.  Golden colors were used on Napoleon’s cape, pants, and hat.  These colors indicate Napoleon’s godliness.  The white horse may also symbolize godliness or purity, but there are four other versions of this painting that have darker colored horses as well as a more ominous background. Although, the colors vary, Napoleon’s calm but determined expression in is the same.  The wild horse is seen as a symbol of danger or an enemy force and the fact that Napoleon is taking it by the reins depicts him as a great political and militaristic leader. David included the names of Hannibal and Charlemagne to further prove his accomplishments as a great leader. David was trying to portray Napoleon as a great authority figure. He was campaigning for him through his paintings by displaying his attributes. 

David’s painting, Napoleon in His Study, has many symbols to further portray a man of greatness.  His military uniform and sword show authority.  He is also portrayed as being very calm by his facial expression and his hand inside of his vest, which was something 18th century men often did to show they calm, relaxed and comfortable before the invention of pockets.  There

Napoleon in His Study, 1812

Napoleon in His Study, 1812

 are also many ancient Egyptian and Greek symbols such as the winged head of mercury on the wall and the lion table leg.  The winged head of mercury is a Greek symbol of wealth and the lion is an Egyptian symbol of physical and majestically power of a king.  The burnt down candles and the bee chair fabric show that Napoleon is a “busy bee” and diligently working to expand the French empire and promote allies.  The book that is at the foot of Napoleon, is copy of Plutarch’s Lives, which is a classical book containing biographies of powerful generals that included Caesar and Hannibal.  

Napoleon's Coronation, 1807

Napoleon's Coronation, 1807

Napoleon’s Coronation is a very famous painting that illustrates the historical event that David was permitted to attend.  However, many of the events depicted are not what truly appeared on that day.  In the painting, Napoleon is crowning his first wife, Josephine.  This is to make Napoleon appear generous.  Also, Pope Pius VII was pictured as gesturing a blessing with his hand.  In reality, he sat on the throne with his hands in his lap, looking bored.  David also lowered the throne so that Napoleon would appear taller.  David also featured Napoleon’s mother even though she intentionally missed the coronation.  The following youtube video is a scene from the movie, Napoleon Bonaparte, which does a good job of showing his coronation and his interaction with David regarding the painting: Napoleon\’s Crowning.

The Tennis Court Oath, 1791

The Tennis Court Oath, 1791

 The Tennis Court Oath or Le Serment du Jeu de Paume was another painting inspired by a historical event.  The Tennis Court Oath was a major turning point of the French Revolution.  It was a pledge signed by members of the Third Estate and the some members of the First Estate to never separate until a constitution was written.  David captured this exciting moment by showing the people raising their arms and hats in praise of the oath.  The golden color-scheme portrays the happiness experienced and the blowing of the draperies signifies the winds of change.  David attacked the ‘political-religious system on which absolute monarchy was founded’ by painting a bolt of lighting striking the royal chapel.  David also included clergyman, Dom Gerle, to show tolerance of the three estates, but this was not the case in reality.  In addition, a man in the right lower corner is pictured with his arms clutching his chest and appears to not have taken the oath.  This man may be Joseph Martin D’auch, who was a political leader and member of the Third Estate.

The Death of Marat, 1793

The Death of Marat, 1793

Jean Paul Marat was editor-in-chief of the newspaper, L’Ami du Peuple or The Friend of the People.  He was also one of the most radical revolutionary leaders of the 18th century.  Marat was the deputy Jacobin of the convention, which David was a member.  David actually visited with Marat the day before he was stabbed in his bathtub by Royalist, Charlotte Corday.  David’s paining, The Death of Marat, shows the image of Marat in his bathtub covered by a blanket.  The desk and pen are there to show the scene that David may have seen when he visited because Marat often spent many hours in his bathtub because it gave him relief from a debilitating skin disease.  The knife and Corday’s petition signify the treachery of Corday.  Marat’s drooping eyelids and tilted head is often compared to the image of Jesus Christ on the cross.   

These are just a few of the famous paintings inspired by the French Revolution and only one author of many.  Other famous art includes the sketch, Women’s March on Versailles, the painting, The Storming of the Bastille, the cartoon The Third Estate Awakens, the painting, Liberty Leading the People, and the painting, Reading of the Bulletin of the Grand Army.  These are pictured below and it’s easy to see recurring themes of devastation, the desire for freedom, and triumph.  

 

 

 

Women’s March on Versailles

Women’s March on Versailles

 

 

 

 

 

The Third Estate Awakens

The Third Estate Awakens

 

               

 

 

 

 

 

The Storming of the Bastille (Prise de la Bastille) by Jean Pierre Louis Laurent Houёl

The Storming of the Bastille (Prise de la Bastille) by Jean Pierre Louis Laurent Houёl

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, 1830

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, 1830

Reading of the Bulletin of the Grand Army by Louis Léopold Boilly, 1807

Reading of the Bulletin of the Grand Army by Louis Léopold Boilly, 1807


Comments



4 Comments so far

  1.    gayle on December 4, 2009 1:00 am

    The National Gallery of Art website had a lot of good information about “Napoleon in His Study”. Although it was designed for kids, you should check it out:http://www.nga.gov/kids/napoleon/nap3.htm

    More about symbolism of David’s, Napoleon’s Coronation, can be found at: at:http://icarusfilms.com/new2006/nap2.html

    More about Marat can be found at the Boston College website:
    http://www.bc.edu/…/CoreArt/art/neocl_dav_marat.html

  2.    The Third Estate | Western Civilization II on September 16, 2010 9:24 pm
  3.    Kathy on August 22, 2013 5:35 pm

    If there is one quintessential French revolution artist, it must surely be Jaques-Louis David. David brought together all of the iconic components of revolutionary art; he used a neoclassical style which conveyed familiar classical Roman and Greek stories to the people, yet within the context of the early stages of the revolution, were little more than a call to arms.

  4.    shoes on March 19, 2014 9:02 am

    hi.

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