(b. 1771, Paris, d. 1835, Meudon)
Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-stricken at Jaffa1799
Oil on canvas, 523 x 715 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Gros was only fourteen when he became a pupil of Jaques-Louis David, after having received instruction from his father, a miniature painter. In 1793, accused of royalist tendencies, he had to flee to Italy, where he lived mainly in Florence and Genoa, making a living from miniatures and portraits. After returning to France in 1799, Gros painted colossal and highly acclaimed battle scenes to celebrate Napoleon's martial prowess, including Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-Stricken at Jaffa and Napoleon on the Battlefield at Eylau.
This vast scene, full of warmth and lyricism, is a good example of the interest in the Orient instigated by Napoleon's battle campaigns. The subject-matter is actually little more than political propaganda, but its execution and the strong emotional appeal achieved by the simple treatment of the victims' fevered rapture, renders this canvas the first great success of Romanticism in painting.