Romantic Circles Gallery
Napoleon at the Sanguinary battle on the Bridge of Lodi
This image depicts the Battle of Lodi. The French army takes up the forefront and majority of the image. There is a distinct gap between the Austrians and the French on the bridge, further clarifying the identification of each army. On the French side, men are shown falling off the bridge, presumably as a result of the cannons which are being fired by the Austrians on the opposite side of the river. Off the bridge, the French are depicted helping the injured men and horses, firing guns, loading cannons, and embarking on a small sailboat. The faces of the men are expressionless. All of the Frenchmen are in standard blue and white uniform. Only one flag is shown, and it is placed at the end of the procession on the bridge.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Carle Vernet's portraiture of Napoleon Bonaparte
CA 8939 v.1
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Printing ContextThe Life of Napoleon Bonaparte volume I (1828) by William Henry Ireland (1777-1835). In the Catalogue Raisonne, the images in the series of books are described as “accurate views of his battles” (A. Cohn, George Cruikshank: A Catalogue 129). However, further research shows that these images are as closely linked to propaganda as William Combe’s satire.
Associated Events"In France commissioned and State-directed prints attacked the enemy and boosted morale. In England the Ministry were as much exposed to attack as the enemy” (G. Everitt, English Caricaturists 55). This fact is particularly interesting when one examines a caricature produced as an English artist’s interpretation of a French event. Cruikshank’s caricatures targeted people other than those involved in the Napoleonic Wars. Throughout his career, he depicted both Tories and Whigs in compromising situations. Additionally, he chose not to spare the British aristocracy. In response to artists like Cruikshank, British governmental officials sought to impose restrictions on free speech, particularly seditious libel. “The Treasonable practices Bill made it possible to speak or write as well as act treason; to incite to hatred of the King and of the established Government and Constitution became a high misdemeanor. The Seditious Meetings Bill [which was instated from 1795 to 1798] put restrictions on meetings of fifty persons and over: the democratic clubs then formed linked groups of forty-nine and lost their more moderate members.” These bills were greatly attacked by the public as well as by caricaturists. It was rightfully seen as a direct infringement on free speech, and in part led to freedom-seekers leaving Great Britain for America. (G. Everitt, English Caricaturists 64-65)
Associated Places“The London Corresponding Society took advantage of dearth and distress and held mass meetings, having planned a Convention to supersede Parliament. In June they demanded annual Parliaments and universal suffrage as rights of the people, attributed the dearth wholly to the ‘cruel and unnecessary war’” (G. Everitt, English Caricaturists 70).
Associated TextsText which corresponds to the image from the book:
“The conflict at the bridge of Lodi decided the fate of the Italian campaign. It was the object with Bonaparte, therefore, to force the bridge of Lodi, which crosses the Adda at a place where the river is about two hundred yards wide, and the breadth of the bridge is about ten. A battery of cannon commanded the whole length of the structure by a raking fire, while other batteries, above and below, threatened destruction to any force that should attempt to cross” (W. Ireland, Life of Napoleon Bonaparte 63-64).
“Bonaparte thinking, as Caesar would have thought” (W. Ireland, Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, 64)
“This sudden attack turned the balance in favour of the French; the Austrian artillery was carried; their order of battle broken up; and terror, dismay, and slaughter were apparent in every direction.... Amounted to nearly three thousand in killed, wounded, and prisoners, together with twenty pieces of cannon” (W. Ireland, Life of Napoleon Bonaparte 65).
A letter Napoleon sent to the French directory stated: “If we have lost few men, this fortunate circumstance is due to the prompt execution and the sudden effect produced on the enemy’s forces by the immense masses rushing forward, and likewise ot the dreadful fire of our invincible column. Were I called upon the designate the soldiers who have distinguished themselves in this battle, I should be obliged to name every carabineer of the advanced guard and nearly all the staff-officers” (qtd. R. Asprey, Rise and Fall 167).
SubjectThis image depicts the Battle of Lodi, fought between the French and Austrian forces. The image, though representing a historical event, engages in some fictionalization of that event: the battle is idealized by the sense of awe aroused by the diminishing mass of soldiers fading into the background, and there is no blood or violent scenes of injury.
ThemeIn line with the propaganda-like nature of this engraving, there is no blood in the image, even though the Battle of Lodi was an extremely violent encounter. Even the caption, in its use of the word “sanguinary,” references the violence of the event and implies that this is to be a bloody image; however, it is not. Additionally, this image offers a taste of the sublime: a sense of awe is aroused as the Austrian soldiers begin as visible bodies that slowly fade into an indistinct mass.
SignificanceThe Industrial Revolution, which began in England, became a source of controversy for the Romantics. Because they sought to return to nature, the extensive infiltration of technology into their everyday lives was problematic. Moreover, materialism, which corresponded to the influx of technology, was another feature of the Industrial Revolution that the Romantics opposed. This image depicts a bridge, an emblem of the growth of transportation. Additionally, “In 1799, Abraham Darby completed the world’s first iron bridge, [which he] built across the River Severn in Shropshire” (N. King, Romantics 19). Although the bridge depicted in the image is not made of iron, it is still representative of the growth of transportation.
FunctionThe function of this historical portrait is to recount the battle. However, though the traditional function of this genre is to relay an event with historical accuracy, this piece conveys an evident bias: rather than depicting the extreme gruesomeness affiliated with this battle, the forefront of the image depicts a bloodless injured soldier.
BibliographyAsprey, Robert. The Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
Cohn, Albert. Asprey, Robert. The Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
Cohn, Albert. George Cruikshank: A Catalogue Raisonne of the Works Executed During the Years 1806-1877. London: The Bookman’s Journal, 1924.
Everitt, Graham. English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century: How They Illustrated and Interpreted Their Times. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1893.
Ireland, W.H. The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte volume I. London: John Cumberland, 1828.
King, Neil. The Romantics: English literature in its historical, cultural, and social contexts. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2003.
Long Title1 leaf, 260 p. : col. plates. ; 25 cm.
10 May 1823