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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

“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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“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

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

 

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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