- Baron Antoine-Jean Gros
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Baron Antoine-Jean Gros

Whenever people talk about the arts, the subject of child-prodigies very often comes up. More often than not they tend to be most abundant in music and dance. Music, because it's apparently a gift that develops early in childhood, and dance because only young bodies can withstand the rigors of the excruciating training that's often involved. In painting, prodigies are more often in their teens and inasmuch as painting isn't exactly a performing art, they are usually less renown. Turner was a prodigy, so was Picasso, Michelangelo, and a few others we've already discussed. Sometimes though, these prodigies start early and then don't quite fulfil the glorious expectations of their masters.

Antoine-Jean Gros was born in 1771. At the prepubescent age of 12 he was a student in the studio of the classical painter, Jacques-Louis David (pronounce DA-veed). It's said the young boy was one of the master's favourites. Eventually, he grew up to compete with his instructor for commissions from the Emperor Napoleon. By the time he was 25 he was travelling with Napoleon and his armies as an appraiser of art to be confiscated from conquered lands and sent back home to Paris. It was a practice David hated and denounced. The master and his protege' seldom spoke to one another thereafter. Quite a number of paintings in the Louvre, however, came as a result of this practice and this young man's keen eye.

In 1804, he painted Napoleon in the Plague House at Jaffa. By this time, he had embraced Romanticism and this painting is shows that. It pictures Napoleon standing, Christ-like in the centre, reaching out, touching his soldiers ill with a contagious diseases. The gesture seems courageous and may be based on the medieval belief that monarchs could cure diseases such as consumption and various bone maladies. There is an overall reddish, golden glow to the painting set amidst Moorish arches, the dead, and dying. Despite the heroic nature of our artist's work, the truth of the matter is something else. When they became a burden to his campaign, Napoleon ordered the desperately ill soldiers of his own army poisoned.

contributed by Lane, Jim

24 February 2001

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