The battle of the Pont d'Arcole

The battle of the Pont d'Arcole

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Title: Battle of Pont d’Arcole, November 15-17, 1796

Author : BACLER D'ALBE, Baron Louis Albert Guislain (1761 - 1824)

Creation date : 1803

Date shown: November 15, 1796

Dimensions: Height 191 - Width 357

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas History: Salon 1804, n ° 10; purchase; mentioned in Napoleon's apartment at the Tuileries, 1806; at the Grand Trianon, 1809; reserves of the Louvre, 1824; entered Versailles in 1837

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Battle of Pont d’Arcole, November 15-17, 1796

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Publication date: January 2004

Historical context

After defeating the Piedmontese and the Austrians, the army of Italy advances into Lombardy and besieges Mantua. He entrusts Vaubois with the task of containing Davidovitch and leaves 9,000 men against Würmser locked in Mantua. Leaving Verona, Bonaparte launched his attack on November 15. On the left, Masséna managed to pass and rally the army, while on the right General Guieu reached Arcole, which he kidnapped. On the 16th, the maneuver was repeated and Augereau again failed in front of the bridge, while Masséna advanced to the left and managed to push back the Austrian right wing. During the night of the 16th to the 17th, Bonaparte had a trestle bridge established in front of Arcole, from where Augereau could take the village in flank, while Masséna would attack from the front. Alvinczy, who lost 10,000 men, fell back, when Vaubois was beaten by Davidovitch.

Image Analysis

Bacler d'Albe represented the evening of November 17, 1796. In the libretto of the Salon of 1804, he explains the painting from right to left: Bonaparte receiving the news of the success of the assault of the 32nd demi-brigade (corps d ' Augereau), Berthier chief of staff ordering care for the wounded, General Robert, former of the storming of the Bastille, fatally wounded and, on the left on the jetty, Masséna resuming the assault. Numerous details of soldiers wounded or distributing cartridges reflect situations experienced by Bacler d'Albe, future general director of the War Depot, then captain draftsman in the army of Italy. The center of the painting obviously shows the boat bridge built by Andréossy's pontonniers which collapsed several times. But the painter did not fail to represent in the distance Arcole in flames, with the famous bridge so harshly defended by the Croats of the Austrian army, as well as the troops of Augereau completing the pushing back the enemy. This so famous episode of the battle has become secondary here, Bacler d'Albe having chosen to represent the entire battlefield, with the Austrian retreat in the background. Topographer artist, the painter used the formula that his friend Lejeune, designer attached to the Berthier staff, inaugurated with the Battle of Marengo of the Salon of 1801 (Versailles museum). The idea was to extend to large paintings the small representations commissioned by the War Depot. This was one of the origins of military painting under the Empire, in the face of more traditional representations showing the victorious sovereign, without seeing anything of the battle, a genre in which Gros in particular was illustrated. Denon, director of the Napoleon Museum, remarked that "the arrangement in [this painting] is clear and presented in such a way that one sees not only the action of the third day, but also the movement of the two preceding days". Indeed, like Lejeune, Bacler d'Albe attempted to represent all the troop movements in a single image, thus inducing an internal reading course in the composition.


In the public's mind, the Battle of Arcole comes down to Bonaparte's attempt to cross the bridge while waving a flag: several paintings have shown this episode, portrait by Gros (Musée de Versailles), attack on the bridge by Horace Vernet (private collection). The subject was also painted by Thévenin, who instead showed Augereau followed by the famous "Arcole drum", André Estienne (Salon of 1798, Musée de Versailles). For several generals acted in the same way on this day of November 15, including Augereau and Lannes. It is to Bacler d'Albe's credit that he showed the whole battle as a historian and not as a herald of the fame of a general. The public very quickly forgot the role of Augereau to retain only that of the general-in-chief, and even the efforts of historians to restore the truth could not make Bonaparte's action forgotten.

  • Italian countryside
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • Arcole
  • bridge
  • napoleonic wars
  • Austria
  • battlefield


Yveline CANTAREL-BESSON, Claire CONSTANS and Bruno FOUCARTNapoleon Images and History: Paintings from the Palace of Versailles (1789-1815)Paris, RMN, 2001 Claire CONSTANSCatalog of paintings from Versailles, tome IParis, RMN, 1995.Roger DUFRAISSE and Michel KERAUTRETNapoleonic France External AspectsParis, Le Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 1999.Gunther E.ROTHENBERGAtlas of the Napoleonic Wars: 1796-1815Paris, Autrement, 2000. Jean TULARD (dir.)Napoleon dictionaryParis, Fayard, 1999.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "The Battle of the Arcole Bridge"

Video: Battle of Arcole 15-17 November 1796