Artworks
Napoleon Crossing the Alps
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Arty Fact

Contributor

When you literally have a Napoleon complex, you'll go to great lengths to prove who's boss. Like owning a Hummer, even an absurd feat like crossing the Alps isn't overkill.

Napoleon conquered the mountain range in 1800 to teach the Italians a lesson in subservience. Here he is, looking sharp in that uniform we might add, at the halfway point, the St. Bernard pass in Switzerland.

Jacques-Louis David made five versions of this painting. The original was a gift to the King of Spain. Funny story, Napoleon then conquered Spain, and eventually put his brother Joseph in charge, thereby getting the painting back for his family. Napoleon's great great grandniece eventually donated it to the museum at the Chateau Malmaison. Moral: beware of short dictators bearing gifts?

A second version was stolen from one of Napoleon's houses by those most warlike variety of Germans, the Prussians, and it now hangs in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin. Two other versions are in the Palace of Versailles, and a fifth is in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna. Phew. He sure gets around for a little guy.

Napoleon thought he was too important to sit for a painting. In addition to being impatient, he thought that paintings of him should be idealized and not too realistic. However, his horse was available, so David painted Napoleon from memory and the horse from real life. Good thing the artist remembered. As Napoleon once said, "Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."