Gros’ Portrait of Napoleon (1796-7)
Gros’ portrait of Napoleon painted shortly after the young general took the bridge at Arcole in Italy is the earliest iconic portrait of the great man. Its verisimilitude is such that it was even praised "for its great resemblance to the sitter."1 Yet no-one seems to have noticed at the time – in an age before photographs – that it could hardly have looked much like Napoleon.
Gros, in making Napoleon resemble his earlier self-portrait, must already have noted the same method in hundreds of portraits since the Renaissance. The Louvre is full of them (as you can see in the Galleries). And like his predecessors he seems to have kept knowledge of the tradition to himself. There is one hint in the archive, though, that not all is at it seems. Gros wrote home to his mother that the session with Napoleon was hardly a “sitting” because the general was restless and “it was necessary to resign myself to painting the character of his physiognomy, and after that, to try my hardest to give it the character of a portrait.”
See conclusion below
More Works by Gros
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