This work is similar to David's The Oath of the Horatii
in that both artists stage
the action within an architectural framework
posing the figures in front of an arcade
. David's being Roman
. The view through Gros's arcade is that of a fortress
in the far distance dominated by the flying of the French tricolor
. The setting has been changed by time, and the painter's means have been altered to suit his present needs of communication.
In Pest House at Jaffa, Gros lets go of the theoretical considerations of the Classical balance and modeling by rendering Napoleon as a stage director might by using the entire use of dark shading and stage lighting to focus attention on the chief protagonist. Surrounded by plague victims and with the officers around him in disgust, Bonaparte is portrayed as tough and undisturbed by these pariahs. Gros is using his ideas here to try and legitimize Napoleon as a monarch would. This was typical for the times a ceremonial 'laying on of the hands of the ill'. The result is the elevation of history painting to an art of almost religious significance and solemn quality -- one in which Napoleon, the Messiah of democracy, in one breath, plays the roles of Alexander, Christ, and Louis XIV.
Napoleon depicted here as the First Consul and not yet as Emperor Napoleon I, is at the finish of the catastrophic Egyptian campaign and in the process of falling back with his troops along the coast of Palestine (modern Israel). His army stricken with the plague he is shown here visiting his sick and dying soldiers in a hospital in the ancient city of Jaffa. It the midst of the death and dying, this confident genius of the New Order-- strokes the sores of a sick soldier who gazes at him in awe, as if he were the miracle-working Christ. Napoleon's staff officers hide their noses against the horrific smells of the place, but the general is calm and self-assured, likened to the king curing by the King's touch. In the left forefront, men sprawl in gloomy misery and torment; these attributes will go on to become of special interest to later artists like Théodore Géricault and Eugéne Delacroix. The entire stage is wrapped up in the richness of its Near Eastern setting. As in the works of Géricault, evidence of Romantic themes are readily seen -- personal heroism, death, faith, the allure of exotic places, and patriotism. At this time in history all held an alluring appeal to the emotional stimulation of the intended audience.
Lometa. "Artists and Art in the Classroom" Tucson, Arizona.
1994. (Lecture presented at St Joseph's Catholic School.)
Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson, Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)
De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
For future reference the image may viewed at
19th Century European Art: