The Battle of the Pyramids

The Battle of the Pyramids

  • The Battle of the Pyramids.

    VINCENT François André (1746 - 1816)

  • The Battle of the Pyramids.

    LEJEUNE Louis-François (1775 - 1848)

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Title: The Battle of the Pyramids.

Author : VINCENT François André (1746 - 1816)

Creation date : 1806

Date shown: July 21, 1798

Dimensions: Height 80 - Width 125

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans

Picture reference: 85DE1317 / RF 1983-105

The Battle of the Pyramids.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans

The Battle of the Pyramids.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: November 2011


The Battle of the Pyramids


Historical context

Ottoman Egypt is an ideal base for stopping British commercial domination in India. The expedition aimed at the occupation of the territory excited Bonaparte, still passionate about the East, and allowed him to retain his glory, threatened by the Directory since its failures with England.
Supported by Talleyrand, the expedition including the best generals of the Consulate, in particular

Kléber and Desaix, as well as many scientists, artists and engineers left in 1798,
After his landing at Aboukir, Bonaparte conquered Alexandria and, on 3 Thermidor year VI (July 21, 1798), crushed the fifteen thousand Mamluks of Mourad Bey at the battle of the Pyramids. The many documents brought back by Vivant Denon have often been of service to the painters who recounted the events.

Image Analysis

In 1800, Lucien Bonaparte, Minister of the Interior, ordered by order of the First Consul a first Battle of the Pyramids to Vincent. Lejeune’s painting was painted to celebrate the first anniversary of the Battle of Austerlitz.
Vincent sketched out an 8 mx 5 m work which has disappeared. Ill, he only delivered to the Salon of 1806 the completed sketch, preserved today in Versailles, and abandoned the project in the hands of Philippe Auguste Hennequin. Later in 1810, Alexandre Berthier, Minister of War then Grand Huntsman, ordered the same subject from him for the decoration of the gallery of the Château de Grosbois.

In Vincent's airy composition, we observe from right to left a chaotic melee of Mamluk horsemen. Their horses rear up in front of the white rump of a horse, ridden by an Arab rider assaulting the French ranks. What passion, what freedom of execution! The graphics are very firm, far from the epic character of the panoramas of the battles of Gros or Gérard.
The action is getting to its point, but its outcome remains uncertain: sabers are raised, guns rumble, soldiers fall.
Faced with this whirlwind which seems to carry everything in its path, the French infantrymen, capped with bicornuate, form an impenetrable wall of defense.
The first line, braced to its arms, takes aim while the second, bristling with bayonets, awaits its turn, ready to fire. In the background, on the left, we see a tower and two pyramids, on the right, palm trees and more French troops. Vincent's painting is a traditional composition of the military shock, treated in brownish tones enhanced with white.
Lejeune's work is larger than Vincent's sketch. Its dimensions are below the requirements of a military painting, but so many details and episodes for a modest format!
Lejeune, soldier and painter in his moments of rest, did not take part in this battle. He knows the other countryside, the art of war and the men. His concern for accuracy and truth contrasts with the lyrical and baroque character of Vincent's canvas, which has earned him the title of "first reporter" in history.
The scene also takes place on the left bank of the Nile, in front of the Giza plateau with in the distance, the three pyramids, Keops, Kephren and Menkaure. Desaix and Régnier are on the right, Dugua in the center, Bon on the left.
Its weakness in cavalry and artillery forced the army to form a square which occupies the right of the composition with Bonaparte, Berthier, the staff and the cavalry. At the corners appear artillery and grenadier platoons armed with bayonets.
Blocked by the solid square while the rest of the troops cut off their retreat, the adversaries ran towards the Nile. A gunboat jumps, a Turk carries a dead man, another, the son of Mourad Bey, threatening sword and pistol, reins between his teeth, attacks a light artillery officer. On the left, we can identify the fortified village of Embabé. Three attack columns of the 32nd line demi-brigade and General Rampon storm it. The inhabitants flee in the disorder towards the boats. Overloaded, they sink.

Lejeune likes movement and the genre lends itself well to it. The light of Egypt allows him to use vivid colors, notably velvety red, but it remains more narrative. With him, it is the composition that prevails, not the effect as in Vincent's painting.
The costume details, Polish lancer, shimmering Mamluks and light infantry riflemen, with red feathers stitched on the shako, have earned him the nickname "Artagnan of painting." This vast ensemble is clear, airy and panoramic. The design is sure and supple, the touch light and fine, the color a little cold. A beautiful order, based on drowned distances and a wide perspective, highlights the movement.
Its style, precious, somewhat in keeping with the taste of the time, already contains ingredients of Orientalism: pyramids, palm grove, shimmering fabrics and dome surmounted by a cross.


In addition to their historical interest, both paintings emphasize two opposing tactics and temperaments. The fiery but hopeless and undisciplined melee of the courageous Mamluk horsemen clashes with the methodical spirit that leads Napoleon's seasoned armies to victory. In the face of modern warfare, medieval warfare no longer stands a chance.

  • battles
  • colonial conquest
  • Directory
  • Egypt
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • East


Annie JOURDAN, Napoleon, hero, patron, imperator Paris, Aubier, 1998. Gunther ROTHENBERG Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars: 1796-1815 Paris, Otherwise, 2000.Henry LAURENS The Egyptian Expedition Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1997. Geoffroy SAINT-HILAIRE The Egyptian Expedition Paris, Paléo, 2000. Yveline CANTAREL-BESSON, Claire CONSTANS and Bruno FOUCART Napoleon: Images and history, paintings from the Palace of Versailles (1789-1815) Paris, RMN, 2001.From David to Delacroix. French painting from 1774 to 1830 catalog of the exhibition, Paris, Grand Palais, November 1974-February 1975. Marguerite GASTON "General baron Lejeune", in Bulletin of the Bernadotte Museum Pau, n ° 20, Dec. 1975.

To cite this article

Malika DORBANI-BOUABDELLAH, "The Battle of the Pyramids"

Video: The Battle Of The Pyramids Napoleon Total War OST