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  • Vercingetorix going to Caesar

    LEVY Emile (1826 - 1890)

  • Vercingetorix going to Caesar

    ELIOT Maurice (1862 - 1945)

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Title: Vercingetorix going to Caesar

Author : LEVY Emile (1826 - 1890)

Creation date : 1863 -

Date shown: -52 BC J.-C.

Dimensions: Height 16.1 cm - Width 2.31 cm

Technique and other indications: monochrome positive on paper

Storage location: Gustave-Moreau National Museum website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais / Franck Raux Link to image:

Picture reference: 09-533789 / Inv11912-63

Vercingetorix going to Caesar

© RMN-Grand Palais / Franck Raux

Vercingetorix going to Caesar

© Beaux-Arts de Paris, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Beaux-arts de Paris image

Publication date: December 2019

Historical context

The rediscovery of the Gauls

In 19th century Parise century, the Salon and the Fine Arts competition represent fundamental stages in the career of painters. These two works bear witness to the rediscovery of the Gauls in the 19th century.e century, which proceeded in several stages after centuries of widespread disdain for these "barbarians" who failed to resist the Romans. Henri Martin (1810-1883) also contributes to restore the Celtic Gauls (and more the German Franks) as “ancestors” of the French and to make of Vercingétorix a national hero (biography in 1865).

Image Analysis

Alésia, victory for the French soul

While the (rare) representations of previous centuries seized on the subject to deliver a classic battle (and siege) scene, the French artists of the XIXe century shift the focus to a non-military episode: that of the solitary surrender of Vercingetorix. Thiboulst’s photograph after Lévy still takes care to put the scene in context: the towers in the background on the hills are reminiscent of the blockade put by the Roman army and its auxiliaries around the camp of the Gauls. A young tree cuts the painting in two, separating in the medieval pictorial tradition two worlds: on the left, that of the Roman Emperor, of his military science, of the power of his legions symbolized by the standards, of meticulously military equipment drawn; on the right, that of the individual bravery of a man in a simple costume and massive weapons, archetype of the Gaul. If Caesar is seated and Vercingetorix is ​​standing, their eyes are at the same height; the conqueror's slightly bowed head seems to signify respect to the defeated leader.

A generation later, in what is only a sketch produced as part of a Fine Arts competition, Maurice Eliot takes up some of these codes while innovating, first of all through the dynamic nature of the scene. . The Gallic leader has just arrived on horseback, his jet-set steed contrasts with the white of the robes of Roman patricians: it symbolizes the indomitable character of a proud nation, which throws its arms at the figure of an emperor this time placed in situation of inferiority by his sitting position. Vercingetorix has not yet delivered the helmet that makes him the commander of his army: he surrenders but is not yet stripped of his position. He finds himself surrounded by the enemy's army, which makes his isolation and sacrifice even more superb. The colored animal skins in the foreground and in the background suggest that the Roman army had a number of barbarians, some represented barefoot: Celtic Gaul resisted a real invasion heralded by black smoke in the background as much as by the incongruous Roman carpet in the foreground.


Vercingetorix, first French head of state

In 1828, the French remained fascinated by the romantic figures of young military leaders, of which Napoleon Bonaparte was the most brilliant model. The 100 pages devoted to Vercingétorix by Augustin Thierry in 1828, both well documented and filled with dramatic springs, place him at the root of a line of national heroes. A new fact linked to the recent revolutionary era, he is a leader elected to win a war and not the heir of a monarchical dynasty. Louis-Philippe and Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte have in common with him that they belong to a lineage but have known how to renovate the monarchical function by relying on the suffrage of the French (censitaire in 1830, plebiscite in 1849). The two heads of state also took up the torch of conquest - colonial with the constitutional monarch (Algiers in 1830), imperial with the nephew of Napoleon I (Italy in 1859, Mexico in 1861): in 1851, the painter Théodore Chassériau represents the leader of the victorious Gauls in Gergovia. With the 1870 defeat against Prussia, Vercingetorix became the emblem of the spirit of resistance of the French people, which made him a harbinger of Joan of Arc ... and of Gambetta. He is also the one who knew how to surrender with dignity and personally magnify the defeat already for Joseph Navlet and Lévy, even more for Eliot in 1885.

Vercingetorix was adorned with the colors of the Republic from his establishment in 1870: he quickly replaced Clovis the Frankish and the Christian in a national pantheon now fiercely secular and willingly Germanophobic. Alésia is an ambiguous symbol: a fruitful defeat for some in that it allowed entry into the Roman world, the battle is considered by others as an example of absolute resistance to Rome, that is to say to the Pope: it was not until 1892 that the latter by his encyclical In the midst of solicitations urged the Catholics to rally to the Republic. Thanks to the History of the institutions of ancient France by Fustel de Coulanges (1875) and even more to the first biography devoted to him by Camille Jullian in 1901, Vercingétorix is ​​judged as a democrat who, beyond the war , was trying to unify the nation - its first real head of state.

  • Paris
  • Art fair
  • Gallic
  • Vercingetorix
  • Caesar
  • Rome
  • Napoleon iii
  • Francs
  • Alesia
  • rider
  • Jeanne D'Arc
  • Gambetta (Leon)
  • Louis Philippe


Jean-Louis Brunaux, Vercingetorix, Paris, Gallimard, 2018.

Paul-Marie Duval “Around César. 3. Vercingetorix. History and legend ", Works on Gaul (1946-1986), Rome, French School of Rome, 1989. p. 163-175.

Vercingetorix and Alésia, catalog of the exhibition at the Museum of National Antiquities of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris, RMN, 1994.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Alésia"

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