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4 Paintings of Napoleon in Egypt

"Bonaparte Before the Sphinx" by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Bonaparte Before the Sphinx” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

4 Paintings of Napoleon in Egypt

A Tour via Paintings of Napoleon in Egypt:

  • “Bonaparte Before the Sphinx” by Jean-Léon Gérôme – Hearst Castle
  • “Bonaparte in Cairo” by Jean-Léon Gérôme – Hearst Castle
  • “Napoleon in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme – Princeton University Art Museum
  • “Napoleon during his campaign in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme – Hermitage Museum

“Bonaparte Before the Sphinx” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Bonaparte Before the Sphinx” by Jean-Léon Gérôme depicts Napoleon Bonaparte during his Egyptian campaign, positioned on horseback in front of the Great Sphinx of Giza, with his army in the background.

The painting popularized Napoleon in front of the Sphinx as a subject in art and caricature.

When the painting was first presented at the Salon of 1886, it had the title Oedipus (Œdipe), evoking the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx. Gérôme was referencing both the ancient myth and its depiction by previous artists.

The French campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) was Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria.

Napoleon’s strategy was to defend French trade interests and to seek alliances to weaken Britain’s access to India. He also sought glory by walking in the footsteps of Alexander the Great.

“Bonaparte Before the Sphinx” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

  • Title:                      Bonaparte Before the Sphinx
  • French:                 Bonaparte devant le Sphinx
  • Artist:                    Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Date:                     1886
  • Media:                   oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:         61.6 cm × 101.9 cm (24.3 in × 40.1 in)
  • Genre:                   History painting
  • Museum:              Hearst Castle

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“Bonaparte in Cairo” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Gerome Bonaparte in Cairo

“Bonaparte in Cairo” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Bonaparte in Cairo” by Jean-Léon Gérôme depicts Bonaparte gazing down upon the conquered city of Cairo.

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

Egypt was 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.

Egypt 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.

Egypt 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.

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

“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

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“Napoleon in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

"Napoleon in Egypt" by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Napoleon in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Napoleon in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme depicts General Napoleon Bonaparte before the Mamluk Tombs outside Cairo. The road in the background is lined with Mamluk mausoleums from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

Mamluk is an Arabic designation for slaves. The term referred to Non-Muslim slave soldiers and Muslim rulers of slave origin. Born slaves, these rulers owed their rise to military prowess and would have been a subject for reflection by Napoleon.

During the Second Empire (1852–70), Napoleon III encouraged the cult of his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s 1798 Egyptian expedition had produced significant historical and scientific interest in all things Egyptian.

An unusual aspect of the Egyptian expedition was the inclusion of an enormous contingent of scientists and scholars of about 160, who were assigned to the invading French force.

The inclusion of intellectual resources was seen as an indication of Napoleon’s devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment. Yet others saw this act as propaganda to obfuscate Bonaparte’s true motives of increasing his power and prestige.

On the scientific front, the expedition eventually led to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, creating the field of Egyptology.

“Napoleon in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

  • Title:                       Napoleon in Egypt
  • Artist:                     Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Date:                      1863
  • Media:                    oil on panel
  • Dimensions:           Height: 35.8 cm (14 in); Width: 25 cm (9.8 in)
  • Genre:                    History painting
  • Museum:                Princeton University Art Museum

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“Napoleon during his campaign in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

"Napoleon during his campaign in Egypt" by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Napoleon during his campaign in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Napoleon, during his campaign in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme depicts Napoleon Bonaparte as a general of the French Revolution on a camel during his Egyptian expedition.

Napoleon arrived in Egypt with his generals in 1798 and attempted to add this territory to France’s growing empire. The British defeated the French navy at the “Battle of the Nile,” one of the greatest naval disasters of all time.

The loss of the French Navy put an end to Napoleon’s dreams of expansion to Africa. The campaign ended in defeat for Napoleon, and the withdrawal of French troops from the region.

Despite early victories and an initially successful expedition into Syria, Napoleon and his Armée d’Orient was eventually defeated and forced to withdraw.

“Napoleon during his campaign in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

  • Title:                       Napoleon during his campaign in Egypt
  • Français:               Napoléon pendant sa Campagne en Égypte
  • Artist:                     Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Date:                      1863
  • Media:                   oil on panel
  • Dimensions:         Height: 35.8 cm (14 in); Width: 25 cm (9.8 in)
  • Genre:                    History painting
  • Museum:               Hermitage Museum

A Virtual Tour of History Paintings

Bonaparte: The Egyptian Campaign

Napoleon | Battle of the Pyramids ( 1798 ) Animation

Antoine Le Gros – Bonaparte visitant les pestiférés de Jaffa

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

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Photo Credit 1)Jean-Léon Gérôme / Public domain

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