Dialects: Monumentality and Anecdotalism in Napoleonic Painting
Bonaparte left a most impressive store of images in his wake, but only
recently have scholars attempted to sift through the elaborate historical
dialects of his representation. Notwithstanding what history knows to
be the many faces of Napoleon, his artistic strategies have persistently
been presumed one-sided: Napoleon, the canon suggests, chose neoclassicism
as his propagandist language because, in its allusion to the emperors
of ancient Rome, classicism most readily conveyed his own imperial aspirations.
Familiar analogies between classicism and authoritarian politics, and
conversely between Romanticism and cultural liberalism, have fueled our
desire to view Napoleon's decidedly unliberal government as promoting
a purely classical visual agenda. As a result, critical assumptions regarding
Napoleon's reliance on an antique idiom have denied the possibility that
an artistic reformation, and the foundations of a modernist narrative,
could emerge from dictatorial propaganda.
Gautherot, Napoleon's Speech to the Second Corps on the Lech