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“Bonaparte in Cairo” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

"Bonaparte in Cairo" by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Bonaparte in Cairo” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Bonaparte in Cairo” by Jean-Léon Gérôme depicts Bonaparte gazing down upon Cairo, which he had conquered.

The French defeated the Mamluk cavalry with a giant infantry square, with cannons and supplies safely inside. In all, 300 French and approximately 6,000 Egyptians were killed. The battle gave rise to dozens of paintings of Napoleon in Egypt.

Napoleon, before the battle, exhorted his troops by saying:

“Forward! Remember that from those monuments yonder 40 centuries look down upon you.”

Napoleon entered Cairo after the battle and created a new local administration. The battle exposed the decline of the Ottoman Empire compared to the rising power of France.

Before the French, Egypt had been conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1517, after which it became a province of the Ottoman Empire. Between 1687 and 1731, Egypt experienced six famines. The 1784 famine cost it roughly one-sixth of its population.

The region was always a troublesome province for the Ottoman Sultans to control, due in part to the continuing power and influence of the Mamluks, the Egyptian military caste who had ruled the country for centuries.

The territory remained semi-autonomous under the Mamluks until it was invaded by the French forces of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. Napoleon defeated the Mamluk troops in the Battle of the Pyramids.

This painting is a pendant to “Bonaparte Before the Sphinx” and was painted about the same time. The companion paintings are the same size.

Battle of the Pyramids

The Battle of the Pyramids was a major battle fought in 1798 during the French Invasion of Egypt. Under Napoleon Bonaparte, the French army scored a decisive victory against the Mamluk rulers and wiped out most of Egypt’s Ottoman army.

Napoleon named the battle after the Egyptian pyramids because they were faintly visible on the horizon when the battle took place.

“Bonaparte in Cairo” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

  • Title:                     Bonaparte in Cairo
  • French:                 Bonaparte Devant le Sphinx
  • Artist:                   Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Date:                    1886
  • Media:                 oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:         59.4 x 103.2 cm. (23 3/8 x 40 5/8 in.)
  • Genre:                  History painting
  • Museum:             Hearst Castle

Napoleon Bonaparte – War of the Pyramids 1798

Jean-Léon Gérôme

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904) was a French painter and sculptor whose oeuvre included historical paintings, Greek mythology, Orientalism, and portraits in the academic painting tradition.

Jean-Léon Gérôme started his artistic career in Paris about 1840, where he studied under Paul Delaroche, a painter of historical scenes, whom he accompanied to Italy.

He visited Florence, Rome, the Vatican, and Pompeii.  He then attended the École des Beaux-Arts back in Paris.

In 1856, he visited Egypt for the first time. Gérôme followed the classic grand tour of most occidental visitors to the Orient.

He went up the Nile to Cairo, across to Fayoum, then further up the Nile to Abu Simbel, then back to Cairo, across the Sinai Peninsula through Sinai and up the Wadi el-Araba to the Holy Land, Jerusalem and finally Damascus.

This experience would herald the start of many orientalist paintings depicting Arab religion, genre scenes, and North African landscapes.

Jean-Léon Gérôme

Battle of pyramids 1798


“A leader is a dealer in hope.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte


Photo Credit 1)Jean-Léon Gérôme, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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