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Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps is the title given to the five versions of an oil-on-canvas equestrian portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, painted by French artist Jacques-Louis David between 1801 and 1805. Initially commissioned by the King of Spain, Charles IV, the composition shows a strongly idealized view of the real crossing that Napoleon and his army made across the Alps in May 1800, through the Great St Bernard Pass in Switzerland. Having taken power in France during the Coup of 18 Brumaire in November 1799, Napoleon was determined to return to Italy to reinforce the French troops in the country and retake the territory seized by the Austrians in the preceding years. The Austrian forces, under Michael von Melas, were laying siege to Masséna's troops in Genoa; Napoleon hoped to gain the element of surprise by taking the trans-Alpine route. By the time his troops arrived, Genoa had fallen, but he pushed ahead, hoping to engage the Austrians before they could regroup. The Reserve Army fought a battle at Montebello in June before eventually securing a decisive victory at the Battle of Marengo.

This picture is the fourth version of the painting, produced by David in 1803 for the palace of the Cisalpine Republic in Milan. It was confiscated by the Austrians in 1816 and later installed in the Belvedere, Vienna, where it is now part of the collection of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.

Painting credit: Jacques-Louis David

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