Napoleon on the pass of Saint-Bernard, Jacques-Louis David – description of the painting

Description of the picture:

Napoleon at the St. Bernard Pass – Jacques Louis David. 1800. Oil on canvas. 2.60 mx 2.21 m
In 1795, the first meeting of David with Napoleon took place. This meeting will certainly leave a big imprint on the fate of the artist – soon Napoleon will appoint him the main painter of the government court, and he will become the heroes of many works of David. The most popular of them is the equestrian portrait “Napoleon at the St. Bernard Pass”.

In the picture, General Napoleon returns from another trip home, obviously, the military company has become victorious. The reared stallion seemed to freeze together with his heroic rider, who raised his hand in a victorious gesture. This movement of the winner’s hand seemed to make the entire surrounding background freeze – the mountain ledges are motionless and merge with the uneasy relief sky.

At the feet of the general are three rocky ledges, visually forming a kind of pedestal. Looking at them, you can see the three embossed names of the heroes who conquered this pass: Hannibal, Charlemagne, and, of course, Napoleon himself. As you can see, David boldly puts his famous contemporary with great names of the past.

If you describe the picture in one word, it comes to mind – pathos. The whole picture literally breathes solemnity and pathos: a reared horse, whose rear hooves are a centimeter from the abyss, Napoleon’s wide, bright red cloak fluttering by the wind, an impassive face and a victory-indicating gesture.

There are a lot of brilliant elements in the picture – the hilt of the saber, harness, mane, posture, the famous cocked hat with a gilt edging. They all create a kind of mosaic, on the one hand, absolutely chaotic, on the other hand, precisely thought out, which makes the viewer stop his eyes on individual elements without losing the main essence.

Today, this picture is on the Malmaison estate, near Paris. This is the most famous residence of Napoleon and Josephine."

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