The caption explains that the French battled the Russo-Austrian army, commanded by the Czar Alexander I, seen in the view approaching with their banners aloft from around the side of a mountain and distant castle. It further asserts that 30,000 prisoners were captured with artillery, flags, horses and baggage and 20,000 men “engulfed in the waters.” Though Austerlitz was indeed a hard-fought battle with major casualties on both sides, the numbers are considerably exaggerated, especially the number of prisoners, now thought to be 12,000. This battle was a major victory for Napoleon — the Austrian Empire withdrew from the coalition of nations opposed to the French Empire and was forced to cede territory and pay a large indemnity. Napoleon now controlled most of Germany and abolished the Holy Roman Empire, while the Russians retreated.
This print is undated, but the same publisher (Jean) produced at least three views of the Battle of Austerlitz as well as other Napoleonic scenes about 1828-1829. Another engraving of this scene, more detailed and finely rendered, published by Jean, and engraved by Le Beau after the artist Naudet, is now in the collection of the BNF, the French national library. The engraving shown here is a considerably simplified version of that one, basically following the composition but with numerous modifications, and the artist and engraver only identified by their initials. It is in the general format and size of a vue d’optique — a perspective view produced as a hand-colored print generally intended to be viewed through a convex lens — and perhaps was made for that purpose.
Vues d’optique often were rendered in high-key color and dramatic linear perspective which enhanced the illusion of three-dimensionality when viewed through the lens, making it seem like the viewer was really there. Thus, they served as a form of visual entertainment. The viewing devices were known variously as zograscopes, optiques, optical machines and peepshows. According to the Getty Research Institute, street performers would set up viewing boxes with a series of prints giving a pictorial tour of famous landmarks, dramatic events and foreign lands. Vues d’optique were also purchased by Grand Tour travelers as souvenirs to be viewed at home as a parlor activity. To cater to this broad audience, the prints often had titles and descriptions in two or more languages. Because the images are reversed in viewing devices, the main titles on some vues d’optique are backwards. Vues d’optique were also hung on walls as decoration.
Jean was a publisher in Paris on the rue St. Jean de Beauvais. The firm appears in the Bibliographe de France, a 19th-century registry of prints, from 1811 to 1838.
Title and inscription lower margin: Bataille D’Austerlitz Gagnée par la Grande Armée, le 11 Frimaire An 14. 2 Decembre 1805. Sous les Ordres de Napoléon le Grand, sur l’Armée Austro-Russe. Commandée par les Empereurs de Russie et d’Allemagne, dont le résultat est 30 Milles Prisonniers avec Artillerie, Drapeaux, Chevaux et Bagages. 20 Mille Hommes engloutis dans les eaux.
Full publication information: Dessiné par C.T. Gravé par M. A Paris chez Jean, rue Jean de Beauvais, No. 10.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, handling. Few soft creases, light scattered foxing, and irregularity to margin edges, unobtrusive.
“Bataille D’Austerlitz Gagnée par la Grande Armée.” Bibliothèque Nationale de France. 7 December 2010. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8413333p.r=.langFR (19 July 2011).
“Emperor’s Palace in Beijing.” Devices of Wonder. J. Paul Getty Trust. 2001. http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/devices/html/homepage.html (30 September 2002).
Hickman, Kennedy. “Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Austerlitz.” About.com. 2011. http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/napoleonicwars/p/austerlitz.htm (19 July 2011).
Kaldenbach, Kees. “Perspective Views.” Print Quarterly. June 1985, updated April 15, 2004. Online at http://www.xs4all.nl/~kalden/auth/perspectiveviews.htm (4 June 2009).
“Search results for Rue Saint-Jean-le-Beauvais.” Image of France at ARTFL. http://artflx.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/imagefrance.pl?submit22=Submit+Query&title=rue+Saint-Jean-de-Beauvais&publication=&simartist=&subject=&year=&listingnum=&stringdate= (19 July 2011).