Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps
Representational portraiture in the European tradition was closely associated with class, authority and influence. A portrait might commemorate a key historical event, as in this painting, which used as its starting point a celebrated painting of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte by the Neo-Classical painter Jacques-Louis David. Capturing the dramatic moment when Napoleon led his army across the Alps to expand his empire into Italy, the painting functioned as a celebration of Napoleon’s new claim to power following the French Revolution.
Wiley dramatically assigns these symbols of authority to his sitter, casting a stark light on the absence of black leaders from historical portraiture and seeking to rectify this imbalance in his work.