The battle of Austerlitz

The battle of Austerlitz

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Publication date: December 2005

Historical context

A masterpiece of military strategy, the Battle of Austerlitz, also known as “the Three Emperors” (Napoleon, Alexander I of Russia and Francis II of Austria), remains the most famous of Napoleon’s victories. Austerlitz was a disaster for the Austro-Russians who had only to deal.

Image Analysis

Gérard painted victory. In a rush, General Rapp brings Napoleon the flags and cannons taken from the enemy and introduces him to Prince Repnine surrounded by Russian prisoners. Napoleon stands on a white horse (Cyrus who, after the battle, will take the name ofAusterlitz), wearing the green uniform of a colonel of the horsemen of the guard. At his side are represented Berthier, major general of the Grande Armée, Bessières, commanding the cavalry of the guard, Junot, aide-de-camp whom Napoleon met in Toulon, Duroc and Colonel Lebrun, son of the arch-treasurer of the Empire. In the foreground, the painter takes up famous scenes from the conclusion of the battle of Austerlitz: the Mamluk who proposes to the Emperor to bring him the head of the Grand Duke Constantine and to whom Napoleon replies: " shut up, ugly savage! "; the Russian officer who complains of being dishonored for losing his drums, to whom he retorts "Calm down, young man, and know that there is never a shame in being defeated by the French". As in many Napoleonic paintings, the Emperor is impassive, while his protagonists express various feelings, in particular happiness and glory in the case of General Rapp.

Although the artist took some liberties with the exact topography (thus the frozen ponds placed at the top left of the composition were actually more than 10 kilometers from the top of the Pratzen plateau), the painting was perceived like a masterpiece. Guizot, a publicist under the Empire, wrote about him: "What wisdom in general ordinance and what skill in combining groups [...] nothing embarrassed, nothing confused. "


Gérard painted an animated picture, full of enthusiasm, without much meaning other than celebrating the glory of the finest imperial victory. Only the exceptional pictorial quality of the artist, one of David's best pupils, above all a portrait painter, allows the composition to escape imagery.

The work is famous in the iconographic program of the Galerie des Batailles de Versailles, but it was above all the victory of Austerlitz itself, which alone synthesized the epic, that placed it here in the new museum. created by Louis-Philippe. In fact, it was to make her enter the legend alongside the two paintings of Vernet, The battle of Iena and The Battle of Friedland, and other Napoleonic paintings recovered by her as The Bivouac of Wagram by Roehn.

  • Austerlitz
  • battles
  • Great Army
  • napoleonic wars
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • equestrian portrait
  • military strategy


Claire CONSTANS National Museum of the Palace of Versailles. The paintings , 2 vol.Paris, RMN, 1995.Roger DUFRAISSE, Michel KERAUTRET Napoleonic France. External aspects Paris, Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 1999.Alain PIGEARD Napoleon's Army, organization and daily life, Paris, Taillandier, 2000. Gunther E. ROTHENBERG Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars: 1796-1815 Paris, Autrement, 2000 Jean TULARD (dir.) Napoleon dictionary Paris, Fayard, 1987. Jean TULARD (dir.). The History of Napoleon through painting Paris, Belfond, 1991 Jean TULARD, Louis GARROS Day by day Napoleon's itinerary. 1769-1821 Paris, Tallandier, 1992 Collective From David to Delacroix , catalog of the exhibition at the Grand-Palais Paris, RMN, 1974-1975. Dominique Vivant Denon. Napoleon's eye , catalog of the exhibition at the Louvre Paris, RMN, 1999.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "The Battle of Austerlitz"

Video: Battle of Austerlitz. Napoleonic Wars