Napoleon at St. Bernard is painting commissioned by the Carlos IV of Spain, who had supposedly done so to ingratiate himself to Napoleon due to the French Pressure on Spain. At first only one copy was meant to be painted, but Napoleon, after seeing the first version- was pleased at the result and ordered more versions to be done.
David depicts a heroic Napoleon on and his ‘fiery steed’ as a request by Napoleon. The horse in comparison to Napoleon at first does not seem to belong to the same painting- while the horse is in midst of a dramatic movement, Napoleon is seated straight and calmly on the horse, his face showing no facial expression. The direct contrast of power and composure instantly gives the impression that Napoleon is in control. This contrast is further intensified through the use of diagonal lines in the painting; the implied movement of stormy clouds and the steep path clash violently with Napoleon, ultimately making Napoleon resemble a God-like figure- one who can control all the chaotic elements of the world. The licked brushwork in the painting too, conveys the idea of godliness due to the extreme definition of Napoleon’s features, the clarity and control of the paint makes Napoleon look unrealistic and unbelievable.
Napoleon’s face being emotionless and somewhat cold immediately forms the feeling of detachment from Napoleon and the viewer, yet because of Napoleon’s direct commanding eyes, he is able to attract the viewer by
challenging them to the point of intimidation. Although no real emotional connection is created, a different relationship is formed- where Napoleon becomes the master and the viewer, the servant.