Title: Napoleon as Hercules
Author : LECOMTE Hippolyte (1781 - 1857)
Creation date : 1802 -
Dimensions: Height 20.6 - Width 12.7
Technique and other indications: brown wash, black chalk
Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website
Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Thierry Le Mage Link to image
Picture reference: RF 3296 front - 07-526764
© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Thierry Le Mage
Publication date: November 2020
A mythological portrait
This drawing is part of a series executed between 1802 and 1814 to illustrate the work edited by Baron Vivant Denon, Campaigns of Napoleon the first in Italy. True “Minister of the Arts” and personal advisor to Napoleon, he was responsible for imperial commissions to artists. The author of the work, Hippolyte Lecomte (1781-1857), French painter and lithographer, steeped in ancient culture, keen on history and military subjects, put his talent at the service of Napoleon to glorify his victories. This mythological portrait project echoes the ambitions of Napoleon, for whom Greece remains a reference, especially in the context of the Italian campaigns (1796-1800) where he dreams of a project for European unification.
Napoleon, a new Hercules
In this highly stylized work done in wash and black chalk from the Cabinet de Vivant Denon, Napoleon is depicted as an antique statue resting on its plinth. Its representation uses all the codes of the iconography of Heracles, son of Zeus. Naked like the Greek demigod, Napoleon arrogates to himself the attributes of the hero which allow him to be identified since Antiquity: the will, draped over his shoulder, which is the skin of the Nemean lion defeated in the first of the Twelve Labors and the club that allows him to slay monsters. But this mythological portrait also uses other ancient symbols, as Napoleon is crowned with laurel as a winner of the Olympic Games and he holds, in his hand, a winged female figure perched on a globe. It is about Nike, the Greek divinity of Victory, who is the messenger of Zeus. This representation of Napoleon holding the victory "in his hand" is inspired by the chryselephantine statue (made of gold and ivory) of Zeus, made by Phidias around 436 BC for his temple in Olympia, which was considered as the third of the Seven Wonders of the World. Zeus was represented majestically enthroned with, in his hands, his scepter and the goddess Nike, wings spread, ready to bring divine victory to men. Thanks to this image, Napoleon proclaimed himself during his lifetime not as a simple warlord, but as a hero of mythology, a new Hercules.
Napoleon, like others before him, will use the symbolic force of mythology to give a superhuman dimension to his person: in the spirit of Caesarism, he is brought to power by the people with absolute power. The assimilation to Heracles-Hercules heroizes Napoleon for the purposes of political propaganda. Like Heracles-Hercules, son of sovereign Zeus-Jupiter, Napoleon becomes in this mythological portrait a figure that embodies strength, legitimacy, strategy and victory in a connection with Antiquity which allows him to distinguish himself from the symbolism of the monarchy. This image, developed in the historical context of the Italian campaigns, gives the impetus to the Napoleonic legend and allows Napoleon to build a providential, victorious and civilizing political image to develop the membership of his army and establish his legitimacy with his people.
- Bonaparte (Napoleon)
- Alive Denon (Dominica)
- Italian countryside
- mythological portrait
- Napoleonic legend
Marie-Anne DUPUY-VACHEY (dir.), Dominique Vivant Denon. Napoleon's eye, catalog of the exhibition at the Louvre, RMN, Paris, 1999.
Guglielmo FERRERO, Bonaparte in Italy 1796-1797, Fallois, Paris, 1994.
Annie JOURDAN, Napoleon, hero, imperator, patron, Aubier, Paris, 1998.
Jean TULARD (dir.), The History of Napoleon through painting, L’Archipel, Paris, 2005.
To cite this article
Sonia DARTHOU, "Napoleon in Hercules"