Between 1801 and 1805, David painted five life-size equestrian portraits of Napoleon. The word “portrait” should be used with some caution, since the impatient Napoleon point blank refused to sit, claiming it was his genius and not his features that mattered, and David had to make do with a bust as a model. It marked a break in the portraiture of Napoleon, which became more emblematic, more symbolic, and it may have been a sign as to where art in general was going.

The five versions are mostly identical, the differences are in the color of the horse, the color of the cloak, and some small details. They are known by the names of the palaces where they hang or hung, this one is called the Belvedere version, though it has meanwhile been relocated to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It is dated ANNO X, which mostly coincides with 1802 (the revolutionary calendar put the beginning of the year on the autumn equinox).

An amusing detail are the names on the rock, Bonaparte, Hannibal, and Karolus Magnus Imp. They are supposed to create a connection with other generals who crossed the Alps. But Charlemagnes name is written directly beneath a crack in the rock on which Napoleon’s horse stands, so it looks more as if he was trampling the former down. Since he—inadvertently—destroyed the empire the other had just as inadvertently founded, there is some truth in this.

Nobody knows if the portraits of the great men resemble them, it is enough that their genius lives there.—Napoleon to David

As the subject of painting or sculpture, the story of Amor and Psyche became a lot more popular during the 18th and in the 19th century. Jacques-Louis David’s massive (241×184 cm) painting, which now hangs in the Cleveland Museum of Art, dates from 1817, when the artist was nearly seventy years old. He seems to take little interest in the mythological or allegorical aspects of the story. Note how Cupid’s wings blend into the bed sheet. In the end, it’s just a picture of two teenage lovers, and Cupid seems quite proud of his conquest.

Jacques-Louis David’s historical pieces are mainly political pamphlets, his mythological paintings are often outright ridiculous, but he was a fitting court painter for Napoleon, and a good portraitist, though he never tries to hide the fact that his models are posing for him.

Among his portraits, I like this one best. It shows Henriette Verniac, daughter of Charles-François Delacroix, who had been a secretary to Turgot, a deputy to the National Convention, and a Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was also the official, though most likely not the real father of Eugène Delacroix, who was born about a year before this portrait was painted.

Henriette Verniac’s portrait is a good example of the gallo-grecque fashion of the Directoire and Consulat.