(b. 1754, Milano, d. 1817, Milano)

General Desaix

Oil on canvas, 115 x 88 cm
Musée National du Château, Versailles

Crucial in securing Napoleon's success in Italy had been the 'lion of Marengo', General Desaix, who had turned the battle by a surprise attack on the Austrians during which he lost his life. Napoleon commissioned the Lombard painter Andrea Appiani — who like many liberals in Milan had welcomed the French - to create a suitable memorial. In Appiani's subtle conception, the general is still very much alive, reading a service order; only his profile pose (a convention for pictures of the dead) and the distant allegorical figures of Time pursued by Death suggest a posthumous portrait. Rather than Italy, it is his former service in Egypt, where he had earned his nickname of 'Just Sultan', that is acknowledged by the two turbaned Mamluks, and he appears in a peaceful role, with sword sheathed and in civilian clothes.