Back to Inquiry Set

Napoleon Crossing the Alps at the Saint-Bernard Pass

David, Jacques-Louis

David, Jacques-Louis; Napoleon Crossing the Alps, 1801, Painting.Brigham Young University,

One of the most famous painters of the era of the Atlantic revolutions was Jacques Louis David (1748 – 1825). He was born in Paris and experienced the French Revolution as a young man. However, he did not go with Napoleon and the French army when they crossed the Alps mountains to attack the Italian city-states. David painted French revolutionary figures, including Napoleon, and heroic scenes from the Roman Republic, which many revolutionaries considered a model for their new nations. Greek and Roman styles were so popular in this time that art historians call it the Neoclassical Period. Although only the rich and powerful could afford a David painting, leaflets, books, and newspapers used similar Neoclassical styles and heroic poses. How does this print compare to the portraits of Washington (Source 10) and L’Ouverture (Source 6)? Why do you think the artists represented revolutionary leaders in these ways?

The significance of these images is the similarity among them. Although there were many images of these men that did not depict them as military leaders, the choice of this pose — a military leader on horseback — shows that artists and leaders were aware of portrayals of other revolutionaries. These images were also used later in history books and in public schools to celebrate the revolution and its heroes, and to build the new nations the revolutions had created. Online you can find images of Simón Bolívar on horseback. You may wish to search for one of these and include it in this analysis.