Bonaparte visiting the plague victims of Jaffa, 11 March, 1799
Paris, Musée du Louvre
This masterpiece, a precursor of Romanticism, was commissioned by Napoléon in an attempt to quash rumours that he had poisoned French troops suffering from the plague during the Syrian campaign. Painted and exhibited in 1804, coinciding exactly with the creation of the Empire, this propaganda work takes on another dimension. By touching the plague victims with complete disregard for the disease, Bonaparte sets himself alongside the kings who wrought miracles, whose touch could heal scrofula, who interceded between god and mankind. This evocation of divine power in a scene in the Holy Land perfectly expresses the dynasty’s desires for legitimacy.