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Napoleon in the Pesthouse at Jaffa

Louvre, Paris


Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby argues that Gros’s Napoleon in the Pesthouse at Jaffa is more complicated than generally acknowledged:

 “Gros’s Plague-Stricken of Jaffa has conventionally been described as a simple, theatrical and unabashedly propagandistic image. My account has attempted to convey the painting’s complexity and instability, partly in order to better appreciate its achievements as a Napoleonic Orientalist construction in service of the regime, partly to underscore the volatility and provisionality of such tenuous achievements during this transitional post-Revolutionary period. Plague, I have argued, could offer a metaphor for a brutal Orient, the aggressions of colonial war, poisoning, and rumor, in short, all that exceeded the State’s control. But it also had another important valence within recent French history. Throughout the French Revolution, metaphors of illness were used by Revolutionaries to describe a sick political body in need of regeneration. Gros’s Plague-Stricken of Jaffa must be understood, therefore to include a ravaged and fragmented (masculine) body politic within its frame. However, in its resonant evocation of a society divided and threatened in the Orient, the tableau attempts to prop up the uniformed French officer as an answer to civil war and domestic disintegration. Nationalistic allegiance to Napoleon as the leader of the French state, the image suggests, is the only alternative to society’s decimation by internal dissent and factionalism.”

Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, “Rumor, Contagion, and Colonization in Gros’s Plague-Sticken of Jaffa
(1804),” Representations, no. 51 (Summer 1995): 36.


About the Artist

Born: Paris, 16 March 1771
Died: Paris, 25 June 1835
Nationality: French