'Buonaparte hearing of Nelson's Victory swears by his Sword to Extirpate the English from off the Earth'

Hand-coloured caricature 'Buonaparte hearing of Nelson's Victory swears by his Sword to Extirpate the English from off the Earth'.

This is effectively a triumphalist mocking satire of Napoleon in Egypt, through celebratory reference to the resounding victory over the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile some four months earlier. The French leader is ridiculed as a set of contradictions. Gillray plays principally upon Napoleon’s stature, for which he is shown attempting to compensate by the extraordinary and extravagant uniform he wears, which is in marked contrast to that of the dispatch rider beyond. The latter (whose mount in the Egyptian context is transformed from a horse to a camel) looks on frozen in astonishment and fear at the uncontrolled outpouring his message has provoked in his leader, his leaden pose pointing up the overblown theatricality of Napoleon’s. The latter unleashes his sabre marked ‘Egalité’, but it is dripping with blood, like the dagger tucked into the fulsome tricolour sash around his waist. His ‘Muslim pose’, by which he tramples the report of Nelson’s victory, at the same time recalls David’s celebrated painting ‘The Oath of the Horatii’. In short, Napoleon is burlesqued as a contradictory combination of the personification of French Revolutionary principles and an orientalized despot, marked most clearly by the crescent moon on his enormous hat, the camel and the oriental tent in the background.

The satire’s ridicule resides finally in the play of word and image that is typical of Gillray. Matching the swaggering pose and excessive costume of Napoleon is the unchecked stream of words he utters. The English viewer is invited to regard both his gestures and words as hollow and empty in the face of the victory at the Nile.

Object Details

ID: PAF3964
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Gillray, James; Humphrey, H.
Date made: 8 December 1798
People: Bonaparte, Napoleon
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Mount: 557 x 405 mm

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