General Bonaparte on the bridge at Arcole, 17 November, 1796
Versailles, Musée National du Château
The first emblematic image of the Napoleonic myth, this painting exalts the virtues of the military leader, as embodied by the young General Bonaparte at the head of the Armée d’Italie. In reality, Arcole bridge was not crossed. But that is not important. Here the artist glorifies the episode and makes it part of the legend. Drive, courage, overpowering will pour out of this edgy yet passionate picture. Gros had in fact been present at the Battle of Arcole, and thanks to the intervention of Josephine, he managed to get Bonaparte in Milan to sit for him several times. What Gros highlights is the image of Bonaparte as the providential saviour, the conquering hero who leads his troops, sabre in hand, seizing victory through his bravery alone.