Revolution to Empire
The Rise of Napoleon
I found the crown of France in the gutter, and I picked it up.
The Directory 1795–1799
The Directory became the new government of France after the Convention created a new constitution establishing a bicameral parliament. This government included an upper house, called the Council of Ancients, and a lower house, called the Council of Five Hundred. The Directory sought to relax the austerity and radicalism of the Committee of Public Safety by supressing the extremes of the Jacobin and royalist forces within France.
Despite desire for change and stability, the Directory was beset with economic and civil problems, giving rise to high inflation and increased spending. Support for the new government weakened as it began to alienate key sectors of French society with its obvious corruption and quest for control of conflicting factions.
The Rise of Napoleon
In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte returned from the Egyptian Campaign. Successful in suppressing uprisings against the government and victorious in his Italian campaigns, Bonaparte was known as an excellent strategist who had gained the respect of his men through bravery and courage under fire, meticulous planning and an unconventional approach to warfare. Despite defeats in Egypt, Napoleon returned to a hero’s reception. Outmanoeuvring the government and supported by his army he collaborated in a coup d’état
to overthrow the Directory and establish the Consulate. By 1800 Napoleon had become the First Consul of France, and was now in a position of total power.
General Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole on 17 November 1796 (Le général Bonaparte sur le pont d’Arcole, 17. novembre 1796) 1796
oil on canvas
130.0 x 94.0 cm
Napoleonmuseum Thurgau, Schloss und Park Arenenberg, Salenstein
Collection of Queen Hortense
This dashing portrait of a youthful Napoleon depicts him mid-battle, during one of his first campaigns against Austrian forces. Urging his army forward, he heroically crosses the bridge of Arcole. Read more
Above: This dashing portrait of a youthful Napoleon depicts him mid-battle, during one of his first campaigns against Austrian forces. Urging his army forward, he heroically crosses the bridge of Arcole. Close
In reality, Napoleon was unable to capture the enemy guns during this episode; rather he rallied his troops by climbing ten metre-high embankments to gain victory.
This painting accentuates Napoleon’s ability and glorifies his power rather than capturing the reality of war.