This scene of riding a white horse and crossing the Alps with his golden cloak waving. It is the most famous portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte. The pioneer of French neoclassicism, Jacques-Louis David, drew the portrait. By the way, isn’t it weird? Did Napoleon really go into the battlefield dressed up in such a graceful manner?
Napoleon Bonaparte is the most successful soldier and war hero in French history. Born on Corsica Island, he joined the military at 16, became a general in his 20s, and stepped into the position of First Consul at the age of 30. This portrait was drawn in June 1800, immediately after when Napoleon’s army beat the Austrian army in the Battle of Marengo.
Jacques-Louis David drew multiple drafts before drawing portraits, but this was not the case this time because impatient Napoleon refused to sit in front of the artist. In other words, the artist was asked to express distinct features rather than appearance to draw not physical similarities but idealized images. It was Napoleon who chose the scene of Napoleon crossing the Alps as well. Jacques-Louis David referenced his previous drawing of Napoleon’s bust sketches and started drawing from his head into the huge screen of over two meters in width and made his son to sit on the ladder to pose for horse riding. In reality, Napoleon crossed the Alps over the back of a mule, which is better than a horse in enduring power, but the mule was replaced with a white horse.
The general in the portrait wears a great-looking uniform and two-cornered hat and is crossing the Alps. He faces the audience outside the screen with his right hand stretched out to the mountain’s summit. The golden cloak fluttering in the wind seems to whip the white horse to speed up. The sky is full of dark clouds, and the mountain is rugged but far away. Soldiers following the general are lined up, heading for the mountain. There seems to be no one who could stop the general. As explained, the ideal image that the man with power wishes to exhibit is completed.
Napoleon ordered three more pieces of his portrait as if he was fond of it, and the artist drew a total of five pieces, including one for the artist’s possession. Did the portrait predict the future? As if to prove that nothing is impossible, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor after three years.