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Current time:0:00Total duration:3:37

Gros, Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-Stricken in Jaffa

Video transcript

when the musee de louvre and we're looking at grows massive canvas and napoleon at the pest house at java we're clearly not in paris no this is the Middle East and what's happening is the forces under Napoleon are fighting the British and in doing so they came into contact with the plague what Napoleon is done with his soldiers that have contracted playing is to put them in a kind of quarantine in a makeshift hospital in a mosque in Jaffa and according to the story visited them in 1799 this painting was made five years later and is a really romantic and somewhat sanitized view of apparently what really happened because by the time Napoleon Commission's this Napoleon is Emperor of France where he had been just the general of the army when it actually happened but Napoleon obviously recognizes the enormous value of art as propaganda and so shows himself almost christ-like visiting this makeshift hospital disregarding the doctors and the fellow soldiers around him who are saying cover your mouth don't breathe in the air here you this is very contagious and he walks through christ-like unafraid of contagion and even touches the sores of one of the plague victims now gros has actually borrowed directly from the velvety right in his rendering of Napoleon so Napoleon is functioning as both christ-like and borrowing directly from the greatest classical tradition the story itself is actually apparently a really nasty one because there were reports that Napoleon it actually forced his sick troops to drink laudanum in order to kill them the other part of the story is that Napoleon had the prisoners that he had taken in battle bayonetted in part because he didn't want to have to be slowed down by them and he didn't want to waste his gunpowder on them so we have none of that sense of the truth of battle and war here this is pure propaganda pure propaganda for Napoleon who makes himself look like a divine leader when I said at the beginning this isn't Paris I said that in part because this would have looked very foreign and exotic to the viewers at the Paris in 1804 clearly Islamic architecture clearly a very faraway place figures wearing turbans and exotic clothing in a way part of the appeal of this painting was its exotic ism and the beginnings really of Orientalism it's interesting to see how grow is handled the composition you have the figures in the foreground a kind of stage set that is really organized by the architecture and by that frieze of the Islamic arches that you had mentioned and then of course we have this extraordinary expanse beyond it we have the figures that have died or that are terribly sick in the shadows and of course Napoleon is lit by the Sun and we have that feeling of kind of Caravaggio lighting extremes of light and dark of strong dramatic contrasts and light and that borrowing from Baroque art that we see in romanticism this is early for romanticism but still we've clearly left neoclassicism behind and we see artists beginning to take on these contemporary subject matter at the request of Napoleon who wants to document his rule and to use art as a kind of way to aggrandize himself his hero home and abroad you