Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




As if Carried off by the Winds

The Rise to Power of the Corsican Devil



Soldiers, you are naked and ill nourished. I shall lead you to earth's most fertile plains. Rich provinces and great cities will fall into your hands. There you shall find honour, fame and wealth.

Napoleon Bonaparte, Speech to His Soldiers on Being Appointed General of the Republican Armies in Italy, 1796


Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, The First Council, 1804
Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon in His Study, 1812
Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps
Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Napoleon on his Imperial throne, 1806




His French spelling was shaky indeed and his strong Corsican accent marked him as provincial. Because he pronounced his first name "Napolion", his classmates at school dubbed him "la-paille-au-nez", "straw nose". He was an average student; his German teacher even regarded him as stupid. Yet he was a voracious reader, and the books he devoured did not make easy reading: Corneille, Montaigne, Montesquieu, Plutarch and Tacitus. Moreover, he had an astonishing memory and never forgot anything. A single teacher, who must have been more percipient than the rest, saw in him "granite which a volcano is heating up". Things were still simmering on the back burner then. Born on 15 August 1769 in Ajaccio on Corsica, Napoleon Bonaparte was regarded as a taciturn, gloomy and sensitive boy. Accepted as a cadet at the Paris military academy in 1784, he was commissioned lieutenant only a year and a half later. Transferred to an artillery regiment, he flirted with the idea of revolution.

At first a fervent Corsican nationalist, he took part in a revolt against the French authorities. However in 1793, he broke with the Corsican nationalist faction and was forced to flee with his family to the French mainland. Rejoining the army, he sided with Robespierre, becoming commander of an artillery battalion. Now that his career was well launched, a short sojourn in prison after Robespierre's fall did nothing to hinder it. At the age of twenty-six Bonaparte was appointed General of the Republican Armies in Italy, and was widely admired for his brilliant tactical skills, his schooled intellect and the leadership qualities he consistently displayed. Veteran field commanders were furious. A greenhorn had been promoted over their heads, a young man of small stature with long unkempt hair. Bonaparte, however, knew where he was heading. In the campaign against Austria, he won victory after victory in northern Italy. He grew famous as a "second Alexander" who "strode like a demigod from battle to battle and victory to victory".

The painter Antoine-Jean Gros captured a scene from that period: the Battle of Arcola, a village twenty-four kilometres south-east of Verona. Between 15 and 17 November 1796, Bonaparte defeated reinforcements dispatched to the aid of the Austrian troops encircled at Mantua. France celebrated him as "Fortune's favourite in battle". The poet Friedrich Holderlin was jubilant: "Holy vessels are poets in whom the wine of life, the spirit of heroes is held. But the spirit of that youth, that quick spirit, must it not burst the vessel that was to contain it?"

Napoleon kept cool, calm and collected. When an envoy sent by the Directoire, which was then the French government, sought him out after the victory at Arcole, he pronounced prophetically: "What 1 have accomplished here is a mere trifle. I am only at the beginning of my career. Do you think that I am winning laurels for my lance in Italy simply for the aggrandisement of the Directoire?" In his own words, he felt "as if he had been carried off by the winds".


Jean-Antoine Gros
Napoleon Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole, 17 November 1796|


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