Different views on Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, King of Italy, has been subject to many contrasting historical interpretations ever since his spectacular rise from a Corsican artillery officer to the Emperor of French, temporarily controlling large parts of Continental Europe. This source collection aims to contribute to improve students’ ability to evaluate historical interpretations, by offering contrasting artistic evidence to some of the main interpretations of Napoleon. Thumbnail image: (Baron F.P.S. Gérard, 1805-1815, Rijksmuseum via Europeana, Public Domain)

This source collection is made by Henrik Hartmann. The collection makes use of sources from the Europeana Collections and is developed as part of the Europeana DSI3 project, which is co-financed by the European Union Connecting Europe Facility.

Napoleon Bonaparte: Forever young and victorious?

Napoleon Bonaparte leads his troops in the front line during the Battle of Arcola (in present-day Italy, near Verona) in 1796. (Baron Antoine-Jean Gros and Guiseppe Longhi, 1798, Gallica BnF via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Forever young and victorious?

Napoleon Bonaparte leads his troops in the front line during the Battle of Arcola (in present-day Italy, near Verona) in 1796. (Baron Antoine-Jean Gros and Guiseppe Longhi, 1798, Gallica BnF via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Forever young and victorious?

Napoleon Bonaparte is depicted by a British Officer during his final exile on Saint Helena (in the South Atlantic Ocean, some 2000 km off the Angolan coast), where he died in 1821. (Unknown British Officer, 1816, Gallica BnF via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Forever young and victorious?

Napoleon Bonaparte is depicted by a British Officer during his final exile on Saint Helena (in the South Atlantic Ocean, some 2000 km off the Angolan coast), where he died in 1821. (Unknown British Officer, 1816, Gallica BnF via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Military genius or surrounded by military geniuses?

Napoleon on a white horse, surrounded by his inner military circle and staff. (Charles Rochusson, 1840s, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Military genius or surrounded by military geniuses?

Napoleon on a white horse, surrounded by his inner military circle and staff. (Charles Rochusson, 1840s, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Military genius or surrounded by military geniuses?

Napoleon on a white horse with his inner military circle and staff. In the distance, a battle is being fought. (Horace Vernet, 1810-1850, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Military genius or surrounded by military geniuses?

Napoleon on a white horse with his inner military circle and staff. In the distance, a battle is being fought. (Horace Vernet, 1810-1850, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Unimpressed in the presence of death?

The siege of Jaffa (in present-day Israel, part of Tel Aviv-Jaffa), from 03 to 07 March 1799, saw French troops conquering the city held by the Ottoman Empire, during Napoleon‘s Egypt-Syria Campaign. Controversy was sparked by Napoleon’s dealing with prisoners of war and plague victims within the ranks of the French Army. In this image Napoleon visits the plague victims in Jaffa, touching the bubo of one of the victims. (Thiébault, Wellcome Collection via Europeana)

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Napoleon Bonaparte: Unimpressed in the presence of death?

The siege of Jaffa (in present-day Israel, part of Tel Aviv-Jaffa), from 03 to 07 March 1799, saw French troops conquering the city held by the Ottoman Empire, during Napoleon‘s Egypt-Syria Campaign. Controversy was sparked by Napoleon’s dealing with prisoners of war and plague victims within the ranks of the French Army. In this image Napoleon visits the plague victims in Jaffa, touching the bubo of one of the victims. (Thiébault, Wellcome Collection via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Unimpressed in the presence of death?

Napoleon instructs his army doctor to poison the plague victims which cannot keep up with the onward pushing French Army. (George Cruikshank, Wellcome Collection via Europeana)

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Napoleon Bonaparte: Unimpressed in the presence of death?

Napoleon instructs his army doctor to poison the plague victims which cannot keep up with the onward pushing French Army. (George Cruikshank, Wellcome Collection via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Forever blowing bubbles?

Napoleon attempts to climb the world on a broken ladder under the eyes of the Goddesses Peace and Justice. Entitled: “vain endeavour, finite pay.” (Unknown, 1814, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Forever blowing bubbles?

Napoleon attempts to climb the world on a broken ladder under the eyes of the Goddesses Peace and Justice. Entitled: “vain endeavour, finite pay.” (Unknown, 1814, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Forever blowing bubbles?

Napoleon blows bubbles for his son, Napoleon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon II), King of Rome. Napoleon II reaches for Rome, while Napoleon I prepares a new big bubble: ‘Europe.’ (Unknown, 1813-1814, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Forever blowing bubbles?

Napoleon blows bubbles for his son, Napoleon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon II), King of Rome. Napoleon II reaches for Rome, while Napoleon I prepares a new big bubble: ‘Europe.’ (Unknown, 1813-1814, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: From Russian triumph to Russian disaster

Napoleon in 1807 in his working cabinet. The Peace of Tilsit (present-day Sovetsk, Kaliningrad, Russia) of that year, following France’s victory over Russia at the Battle of Friedland (present-day Pravdinsk in Kaliningrad, Russia), marked the temporary defeat of the Prussia. (Photo: Robert J. Bingham, 1994; Original: Paul Delaroche, 1858, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: From Russian triumph to Russian disaster

Napoleon in 1807 in his working cabinet. The Peace of Tilsit (present-day Sovetsk, Kaliningrad, Russia) of that year, following France’s victory over Russia at the Battle of Friedland (present-day Pravdinsk in Kaliningrad, Russia), marked the temporary defeat of the Prussia. (Photo: Robert J. Bingham, 1994; Original: Paul Delaroche, 1858, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: From Russian triumph to Russian disaster

Napoleon in March 1814 in Fontainebleau (outside Paris), following his retreat from Russia and the subsequent capitulation of Paris. In the following weeks, Napoleon abdicates in favour of Napoleon II and is exiled to Elba (off the Tuscan coast, present-day Italy) (Photo: Robert J. Bingham, 1994; Original: Paul Delaroche, 1840, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: From Russian triumph to Russian disaster

Napoleon in March 1814 in Fontainebleau (outside Paris), following his retreat from Russia and the subsequent capitulation of Paris. In the following weeks, Napoleon abdicates in favour of Napoleon II and is exiled to Elba (off the Tuscan coast, present-day Italy) (Photo: Robert J. Bingham, 1994; Original: Paul Delaroche, 1840, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: The hardships incurred by continued campaigning

Two lieutenants in a provisional night quarters in Maladzyechna (present-day Belarus) in December 1812, during the long retreat of the French Army from Russia. In the distance, French soldiers continue walking through the snow. (Johannes Hari, 1812-1820, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: The hardships incurred by continued campaigning

Two lieutenants in a provisional night quarters in Maladzyechna (present-day Belarus) in December 1812, during the long retreat of the French Army from Russia. In the distance, French soldiers continue walking through the snow. (Johannes Hari, 1812-1820, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: The hardships incurred by continued campaigning

“Gasconaders of the Grand Army retreat from Moscow.” (Charles Williams, 1813, The British Museum, via Europeana)

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Napoleon Bonaparte: The hardships incurred by continued campaigning

“Gasconaders of the Grand Army retreat from Moscow.” (Charles Williams, 1813, The British Museum, via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: The Retreat from Russia through European eyes

A British political cartoon, depicting “Boney [Napoleon Bonaparte] returning from Russia covered with glory, leaving his Army comfortable in winter quarters.” (Charles Williams, 1813, The British Museum, via Europeana)

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Napoleon Bonaparte: The Retreat from Russia through European eyes

A British political cartoon, depicting “Boney [Napoleon Bonaparte] returning from Russia covered with glory, leaving his Army comfortable in winter quarters.” (Charles Williams, 1813, The British Museum, via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: The Retreat from Russia through European eyes

A German political cartoon, depicting a “voluntary bivouac [night quarters] by the Grand French Army in November 1812.” (Unknown, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, via Europeana)

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Napoleon Bonaparte: The Retreat from Russia through European eyes

A German political cartoon, depicting a “voluntary bivouac [night quarters] by the Grand French Army in November 1812.” (Unknown, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Emperor of the French?

“the Grand Nation has its Grand Emperor back and moves out to Grand Conquests.” Napoleon, with a globe in his hand, gives directions to his adjutant while the army processes around him. (Johann Michael Voltz, Gottfried Schadow and Friedrich Campe, 1815, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Emperor of the French?

“the Grand Nation has its Grand Emperor back and moves out to Grand Conquests.” Napoleon, with a globe in his hand, gives directions to his adjutant while the army processes around him. (Johann Michael Voltz, Gottfried Schadow and Friedrich Campe, 1815, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Emperor of the French?

„The Jacobins undress Napoleon,” following his return to Paris after the defeat at the Battle of Waterloo of 1815. (Wijnand Esser, 1815, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Emperor of the French?

„The Jacobins undress Napoleon,” following his return to Paris after the defeat at the Battle of Waterloo of 1815. (Wijnand Esser, 1815, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: In the eyes of other European powers

Following defeat at the Battle of Leipzig (or the Battle of the Nations, present-day Germany) of 1813, Napoleon is depicted by a Dutch artist as “the rat is in the trap,” lured by the Orange (the House of Orange (Dutch Monarchy) was able to return from exile following the French retreat). (Wijnand Esser, 1813, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: In the eyes of other European powers

Following defeat at the Battle of Leipzig (or the Battle of the Nations, present-day Germany) of 1813, Napoleon is depicted by a Dutch artist as “the rat is in the trap,” lured by the Orange (the House of Orange (Dutch Monarchy) was able to return from exile following the French retreat). (Wijnand Esser, 1813, Rijksmuseum via Europeana)

Napoleon Bonaparte: In the eyes of other European powers

Napoleon, following defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (present-day Belgium) of 1815, is depicted as “the ex-emperor in a bottle,” surrounded by marvelling “European royals and martial heroes.” (Unknown, 1815, Wellcome Collection via Europeana, CC BY 4.0)

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Napoleon Bonaparte: In the eyes of other European powers

Napoleon, following defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (present-day Belgium) of 1815, is depicted as “the ex-emperor in a bottle,” surrounded by marvelling “European royals and martial heroes.” (Unknown, 1815, Wellcome Collection via Europeana, CC BY 4.0)