The capture of Constantine

The capture of Constantine

  • The enemy pushed back from the heights of Coudiat-Ati. October 10, 1837.

    VERNET Horace or Emile-Jean-Horace (1789 - 1863)

  • The assault columns begin to move. October 13, 1837

    VERNET Horace or Emile-Jean-Horace (1789 - 1863)

  • Capture of the city. October 13, 1837.

    VERNET Horace or Emile-Jean-Horace (1789 - 1863)

The enemy pushed back from the heights of Coudiat-Ati. October 10, 1837.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

The assault columns begin to move. October 13, 1837

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Capture of the city. October 13, 1837.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The capture of Constantine

In 1834, King Louis-Philippe resolved to maintain the French presence in Algeria, but chose to restrict the occupation to certain coastal positions. Begun on October 10, 1837, it ended victoriously on the 13th, after a bloody street fight and at the cost of heavy human losses.

Image Analysis

The heroic army of Africa

In 1838, Louis-Philippe ordered from Horace Vernet several paintings dedicated to the main victories of the Algerian campaign, intended for the historical museum of Versailles. The capture of Constantine is one of the subjects requested.
The painter works from drawings sketched on the spot by artists who accompany the expeditionary force; he even made a few trips to Algeria to observe the battlefields. This explains the extreme precision in the treatment of details of the army in the field such as landscapes or Algerian flora, precision which gives these paintings great documentary value.
The three paintings of the capture of Constantine follow the progress of the French army: on October 10, 1837, arriving very close to the city (which can be seen in the back of the painting), it pushes the enemy back from the heights of the cemetery of Coudiat-Ati (hence the open tombs in the foreground of the canvas); on the morning of the 13th, at the foot of the city, the assault columns set in motion; during the day, the walls were taken, allowing the army to enter Constantine.
Following the usual rules of the representation of battles, these canvases, full of noise and fury, present the battles on the spot. The dense juxtaposition of the figures, the multiplication of scenes, the representation of victims, contribute to creating dramatic tension while fixing the gesture of the Algerian epic which puts military leaders and the African army on the front of the stage. . The painter is indeed devoted to representing the main officers. We thus recognize the Duke of Nemours, son of the king who came to collect a few laurels in the Algerian countryside (as his brothers would do later), the general governor Damrémont who will be killed in the streets of Constantine, as well as many other officers perfectly identifiable for contemporaries. The troop of anonymous soldiers faithfully reproduces the composite nature of this African army: the French detachments mix with indigenous soldiers, African hunters or Zouaves, recruited locally to spare French blood and money.
We will notice the recurrent use (in the different canvases, but sometimes within the same work) of the same scene: an officer, his arm outstretched, brandishing a saber, a hat or a flag, the body stretched out towards the battle but the head turned towards his men, seems to urge them to action. This is a stereotypical pose depicting heroism: it was first used by Gros representing Bonaparte at the Pont d'Arcole, then repeated throughout the iconography of the Italian campaign; it is then presented many times in various performances of the Three Glorious Years. Finding it here in Vernet's paintings clearly shows the success of this scene, which has become a classic in the representation of battles. It also allowed contemporaries to make the connection between these paintings and representations of the Napoleonic epic, or even of the victory of the people in July 1830.

Interpretation

Constantine's victorious second expedition was largely exploited to enhance the prestige of the army defeated in previous years and overcome political controversies over the merits of an occupation. Vernet's canvases make Paris run to recognize the protagonists of the great scenes; they flatter the rosy spirit of the French, encouraged to support the campaign out of a taste for panache and encouraged to compare it to the glorious Napoleonic epic. They will extract from Baudelaire, anti-colonialist and artistic journalist at the Salon where the works are presented, a concise comment: “I hate this man. "

  • Algeria
  • army
  • battles
  • graveyard
  • colonial conquest
  • East

Bibliography

Charles-Robert Ageron History of contemporary Algeria Paris, PUF, 1979.Denise Bouché History of French colonization , volume II “Flux et reflux, 1815-1952” Paris, Fayard, 1991.André Corvisier (dir.) Military history of France , volume II “1715-1871” Paris, PUF, 1992.J.Martin The Renaissance Empire, 1789-1871 Paris, Denoël, 1987. Jean Meyer, J. Tarrade and Annie Rey-Goldzeiguer History of colonial France volume I “The conquest”, Paris, Armand Colin, coll. "Agora Pocket", 1996.Christian-Marc Bosséno "Bonaparte from Lodi to Arcole: genealogy of a legendary image", in Historical annals of the French Revolution 1998, n ° 3.

To cite this article

Mathilde LARRÈRE, "The Capture of Constantine"


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