I would like to simply begin with this: I do not condone fighting or violence in any literal or metaphorical sense of the word in any setting where it would actually be hurting people. Napoleon Bonaparte, who is the center of this very well-depicted painting, did a lot of this, and although he did other things helpful to people (a wide array of liberal reforms across Europe, including the abolition of feudalism and the spread of religious toleration), he did a lot of fighting. And that kind of sucks.
In the foreground of this painting, bloody, dead bodies litter the snow. The background is barren from a significant battle, the skies filled with smoke. The scene, at first, seems like a massacre, which it is – but the artist, Antoine-Jean Gros, is using very clever artistic magic to make a second impression on the painting, making it seem much, much different from simply a massacre.
Obviously, the modern camera was not invented at the time of this painting (1808), but the way the the painting is depicted, anyone viewing the painting knows immediately which person Napoléon is. The artist uses several different techniques – shadowed, out-of-focus faces, and closely clumped bodies – on the other people shown in the paintings to make sure of this. The increased contrast in the colors used on Napoléon – evident in his bright, clear face and bold, black headwear – brings him even more in focus to the eye. The artist’s placement of Napoléon in relation to the other people in the painting also dramatically puts the spotlight on him. In the painting, Napoléon sits atop a bright, muscular horse (which not only brings him slightly higher than the other heads, but also sets his coloration to stand out more), while the other people either ride dark horses or none at all. Another eye-catching technique used by this artist is Napoléon’s body. Not only is his body in a stoic, painting-worthy pose, but all of his body is shown, unlike the people next to him. This full-bodied portrayal makes all the more difference in centering Napoléon immediately as the focus of the painting.
Though Antoine-Jean Gros made this painting out of commission and not of choice, the skilled pointedness of the painting makes it seem as though Gros was very passionate about this defeat of Napoléon’s. And, stepping outside of formal language for my final review, he absolutely crushed it.