Napoleon in combat

Napoleon in combat

  • Napoleon pays homage to unhappy courage.

    DEBRET Jean-Baptiste (1768 - 1848)

  • Napoleon wounded in front of Regensburg.

    GAUTHEROT Pierre (1769 - 1825)

Napoleon pays homage to unhappy courage.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet / C. Jean

Napoleon wounded in front of Regensburg.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Trained at the Ecole Militaire de Brienne and then at the Ecole Militaire in Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte graduated as an artillery second lieutenant in 1785. A man of honor, he knew how to do justice to the courage of his adversaries.

The dedication of surgeons and physicians was immense throughout the period of the Revolution and the Empire, often to no avail. In 1805, he even went so far as to ban all transport to the rear before the end of the action. The desperate could still serve ...

The Emperor himself had in his service a doctor, Corvisart, and a surgeon, Yvan. It was this one who intervened during the wounding of Regensburg, and especially in 1814, when the fall of his empire, Napoleon attempted to commit suicide.

Image Analysis

Napoleon pays homage to unhappy courage by Jean-Baptiste Debret

After the capture of the city of Ulm and the surrender of General Mack's Austrian troops on October 19, 1805, Napoleon paraded the prison garrison before him. In front of the wounded, he lifted his hat and paid tribute to their courage. It was at this time that the Emperor took the necessary measures to safeguard the wounded by instituting the health service, while limiting the effectiveness of the action of the flying surgeons.

This painting by Debret, an artist who left for Brazil in 1815 to open a drawing school, is inspired by an article in the Journal de Paris from 15 Brumaire year XIV. It was one of the most disseminated by the Napoleonic legend, due to the tribute it paid to Austrian soldiers, who were quickly transformed into French soldiers by engravers. Indeed, the half-pay, demobilized soldiers nostalgic for the Empire and ostracized from society by the Restoration, obviously had to recognize themselves in this subject, which restored their lost dignity. It was thus Napoleon himself who greeted his comrades in arms.

Napoleon wounded in front of Regensburg by Pierre Gautherot

His plan to invest Vienna, Napoleon stormed the city of Regensburg on April 23, 1809, while the Austrian army of Archduke Charles continued to retreat. During the action, the Emperor received a stray bullet in the heel. Yvan came to heal him under the eyes of Eureloup, Percy's successor as surgeon of the Grand Army. The Emperor had not taken off his boots for three days, which amplified his suffering, which was real, and which is perfectly reflected in the expression given to him by Gautherot. But he got back on his horse even before his foot was fully healed, continuing his warlike task. The picture is worth especially by the dynamism of the attitude of Napoleon who, having dismounted half-horse, essentially to be treated, nonetheless remains the insensitive warlord who continues to pursue the goal of victory that he s 'is fixed.
The subject allows the artist to paint a modern Achilles, injured like him in the tendon, but who, unlike the Homeric hero, does not die of his wound. It is an invulnerable Napoleon that we are dealing with here, and as always with this type of painting, in the background it is the providential man who is painted. The sacred man protected by God.

Interpretation

These two paintings allow us to pose an original problematic in the whole of Napoleonic production. It is certainly noble deeds of the Emperor which are painted, but they are also events which show Napoleon's proximity to the soldiers, both enemy and French. Because it was Napoleon, a man of honor, a man of courage and a fighter for the Fatherland, that Gautherot and Debret were attached. Admittedly these works are a little cold, undoubtedly too direct with their acidulous colors, but they reveal a Napoleon attached to high moral values, those of the fighter whom he never ceased to be.

The painful expression of Debret's painting is to be noted. This is one of the rare times, with the Battle of Eylau de Gros and the Surrender of Madrid by Vernet, where the Emperor shows a feeling. In Gros it was about compassion, in Vernet it was anger. Everything happens in most of the paintings as if a man of his stature could not condescend to simple human considerations.

  • battles
  • Great Army
  • Napoleonic legend
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • Napoleonic propaganda
  • equestrian portrait

Bibliography

Jacques BAINVILLE, Napoleon, Paris, Fayard, 1931, reedited Balland, 1995 Marcel BALDET, Daily life in the armies of Napoleon, Paris, Hachette, 1965 Claire CONSTANS, National Museum of the Palace of Versailles. The paintings, 2 vol.Paris, RMN, 1995.Roger DUFRAISSE, Michel KERAUTRET, Napoleonic France. External aspects, Paris, Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 1999.Alain PIGEARD, Napoleon's Army, organization and daily life Paris, Taillandier, 2000. Gunther E. ROTHENBERG, Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars: 1796-1815, Paris, Autrement, 2000. Jean TULARD (dir.), Napoleon Dictionary, Paris, Fayard, 1987. Jean TULARD (dir.), The History of Napoleon through painting, Paris, Belfond, 1991 Jean TULARD, Louis GARROS, Itinerary of Napoleon day by day. 1769-1821, Paris, Tallandier, 1992 Collective, From David to Delacroix, catalog of the exhibition at the Grand-Palais, Paris, RMN, 1974-1975., Dominique Vivant Denon. Napoleon's eye, catalog of the exhibition at the Louvre, Paris, 1999.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "Napoleon in combat"


Video: Napoleonic Infantry Tactics