Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Napoleon and the Austrian Empire

I posted last month about the polyglot army of the Austrian Empire, with information gleaned from my visit to the Military Museum in Vienna.  But there's lots more stuff to see there.  Just looking at the exhibits gives a visitor a potted history of the French in Austria and Italy.

One of the first exhibits to fascinate me was this poster, dating from about April 1799.  (Napoleon was in Egypt at the time, so we can't blame him for this, though he'd been fighting in Italy in 1796-7)  The French text reads as follows:

"On the 9th of Floreal of the Year VII 
At nine in the evening
troops, assassinated
the minsters of the French Republic
Bonnier, Roberjot and Jean Debry
who were tasked by the Directoire
with negotiating the peace
at the Congress of Rastadt.

Their blood smokes... it will obtain vengeance."

It wasn't clear from the exhibits whether bloody vengeance was exacted by the French or not.  But they were bloody times, as we know, so it's probable.

Napoleon had conquered Italy after two separate campaigns and accepted the presidency of the Italian Republic in 1802.  I can't imagine he took much persuading!!   

Then, after he made himself Emperor of France in 1804, he crowned himself King of Italy as well, in 1805.  This picture, by Andrea Appiani, shows Napoleon in his pomp as King of Italy. 

But not everything went his way.  Eventually, he met defeat as well as victory.  First in Russia, and then later against a European alliance.

This is the famous picture by Johann Peter Krafft of the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, in October 1813, with the three monarchs receiving the news of their victory.  The armies were huge, about half a million men in all, probably the biggest armies in the field until the First World War.  The casualties were also huge.  Tens of thousands of dead and wounded.

Left to Right: Tsar Alexander I, Emperor Francis of Austria, King Frederick William III of Prussia

The monarchs, as this detail from the Krafft picture shows, look proud of their success.  Also remarkably clean, I'd have said.  That could be just how the painter thought he should show them.  Alternatively, it could be because they were a long way from any actual fighting.  Take your pick. 

Eventually, Napoleon was beaten in France and was exiled to Elba.  The Vienna Museum has this coat with the legend "Russian officer's coat reportedly worn by Napoleon on his journey from Fontainebleau into exile on Elba in 1814, worn because it was feared there would be attempts on his life."  Is it true?  We can't be sure.  Lots of other paintings show Napoleon wearing this sort of coat at earlier stages of his career.  And since the museum's legend to the Krafft painting gives the date of the Battle of the Nations as 1817 (by which time Napoleon was fixed in St Helena) I'm not prepared to take everything the museum says as gospel.
Even if there are mistakes, though, I do still think it's worth a visit.  (It's a pity about the reflections on the glass cases, though.  I couldn't keep them out of my photographs.)



Elizabeth Hawksley said...

What fascinating places you visit, Joanna.

Personally, I rather doubt that the three monarchs would have stood together on the battlefield. Surely each would be with his own troops, and probably safely in the rear! As you rightly point out, they are suspiciously clean.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree, Elizabeth. But it makes a good pose in the picture, doesn't it? Helped by the fact that they're all painted as slim and of military bearing. Were they? Dunno. I admit that the uniforms of Emperor Francis (on display in the museum) do look quite slim fitting. But without photography, there's no way of being sure.

Yes, the Vienna museum is fascinating. Well worth a visit.