Dressed as a general of the French Revolution, Napoleon stands outside Cairo, on a road lined with Mamluk mausoleums from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He surveys the city. Napoleon arrived in Egypt with his generals in 1798 and attempted to add this land to France’s growing empire. The British defeated the French navy at the Battle of the Nile, one of the greatest naval disasters of all time, and put an end to his dreams of expansion to Africa. At the moment shown, this event is in the future. It is ironic to see Napoleon, flush with conquest, beside the Mamluk tombs, the burial places of slaves who rose to military glory and imperial rule; the monuments speak of the vanity of empire building and the fate that awaits even the most successful conquerors. Gérôme’s meticulously rendered Orientalist scenes, based on his travels in Constantinople (1853), Egypt (1856), and elsewhere, rival photography and form a counterweight to his re-creations of Greco-Roman antiquity.
Signed lower left: J. L. GEROME.
During the Second Empire (1852–70), Napoleon III encouraged the cult of his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, whose 1798 Egyptian expedition is illustrated here. Gérôme shows the legendary general in an exotic setting, before the Mamluk Tombs outside Cairo. Born slaves, these rulers owed their rise to military prowess and would have been a subject for reflection by Napoleon as he surveyed the city below. Gérôme’s meticulously rendered Orientalist scenes, based on his travels to Constantinople, Egypt, and elsewhere, rival photography and form a counterweight to his recreations of Greco-Roman antiquity.
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