"The Conquerors" / "Les Conquerants"
In 1892 Pierre Fritel astonished the world of art with his picture of "The Conquerors," exhibited at the Paris Salon. In this work the daring genius of the artist has brought together in one impressive scene the war-heroes of all ages. "Les Conquerants" was one of the most talked about pictures of the Salon of 1892, an immense canvas, occupying the place held in 1891 by Rochegrosse's "Morte de Babylon." As inspired prophets have revealed to the imagination the future changes of nations in one vast vision, here the painter, rising above the limitations of his art, forces not merely upon the bodily eye, but upon the aroused mind the almost superhuman grandeur of those leaders who have from age to age changed the destinies of the world.
Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, whose limits are obscured in darkness, advance, hollow-eyed and remorseful, the conquerors of all ages, marching in close ranks between a double row of corpses, stripped and rigid, lying packed close together with their feet toward the procession. In the center of the van rides Julius Caesar, whom Shakespeare has pronounced "the foremost man of all this world." On his right are the Egyptian called by the Greeks Sesostris, now known to be Rameses II., Attila, "the Scourge of God," Hannibal the Carthaginian, and Tamerlane the Tartar. On his left march Napoleon, the last world-conqueror, Alexander of Macedon, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, that "head of gold" in the great image seen in his vision as interpreted by the prophet Daniel, and Charlemagne, who restored the fallen Roman Empire.
Each apparition appears clad in the habiliments supposed to have been most generally worn in life. But despite the glittering accouterments of rank, the flush of victory, the pride of conquest, and the conscious air of authority are absent. Sad, remorseful, hollowed of cheek and sunken of eye, the terrible procession issues from the depths of the darkness only to reentcr the night again in one endless, unbroken line.
Straight onward, mounted on horseback or riding in chariots, march these mighty men of the past at the head of armies whose lines of spears stretch back into the dim distance. On either side lie prostrate the naked bodies of those who have yielded their lives that these men might exercise power. The Conquerors, their hosts and their victims, all belong to the world of the dead. Yet their power and glory are made fearful realities. Their influence and work are felt to pervade the world, to reach even to us, the living spectators. They are presented as dead, yet living and sending forth a mighty effect upon ages yet to come. The mighty sacrifices by which the glory of the world is achieved are here realized as never before.
But these were not the true conquerors of the world. Fritel should paint another picture representing a long white-robed procession, not bedecked with martial trappings, of those who have tried to lessen the sorrows of the world, no passing between aisles of the dead, but through tumultuous throngs of the glad living, singing paeans of praise and joy; and among these stately aristocrats would be found Jenner, who gave us vaccination; Morton and Simpson, from whom came ether and chloroform ; Pasteur and Lister, who made modern surgery possible with antisepsis; Koch, to whom we owe tuberculin and antitoxin; and Koeller, who bestowed upon us cocain, which revolutionized minor surgery.
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