HOW DID A HORSE, RIDDEN BY NAPOLEON BONAPARTE in the year 1800, reach the tenth Sikh master, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, whose 350th Birth Anniversary is being celebrated by the Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in Punjab?
ONLY CHIEF MINISTER AMRINDER SINGH can answer that question since his is the only other photograph in the huge official advertisements appearing in newspapers that also depict the Saint-Soldier Guru and founder of the Khalsa Panth astride the same horse which Napoleon rode as he ostensibly crossed the Alps in May 1800.
That Amarinder Singh is well versed with horse riding and is a war chronicler and historian is all the more reason why he should have seen that the horse which the great Sikh guru has been depicted riding in the official advertisement has walked straight out of the painting, "Napoleon Crossing the Alps," painted by Jacques-Louis David.
The official advertisement appearing in newspapers depicted the Saint-Soldier Guru and founder of the Khalsa Panth astride the same horse which Napolean rode as he ostensibly crossed the Alps in May 1800.
Jacques-Louis David, well known as a lackey artist of Napoleon, painted five versions of the same painting but for some inexplicable reason, the Punjab Government chose to steal the third version, also known as the Second Versailles Version, and morphed the painting of the tenth Sikh Guru on it. However, the cloak of the Guru is same as that of the Napolean in the painting, every fold exactly as Jacques-Louis David painted it.
The original painting, an 1802 production, went into storage during the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, but Louis Philippe I, the then King of France ordered that it be re-hung in his newly opened museum at the Palace of Versailles. Till date, the painting hangs in Versailles.
No one in the top echelons of the government has any inkling why any other Sikh painting or sketch could not have been used. The faux pas is all the more glaring, considering that the Chief Minister has a full-fledged Media Advisor who is a former senior journalist with years of experience in Punjab, covering the state's socio-religious domain, including umpteen key centenaries and anniversaries. No official advertisement is cleared without a nod from the CMO.
From the reins of the horse, to its forelegs in the air, the hindlegs all reared up, the figure riding the horse wreathed in the folds of a large cloak which billows in the wind, and the left hand gripping the reins of the steed, its distinctive mane and the tail whipped against its body by the same wind that inflates Napoleon's cloak — every single detail in the painting of Napoleon and in the Punjab Government's advertisement depicting Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji is the same.
Even the rock at the bottom left of the painting is the same. It is a small mercy that the plagiarised advertisement does not show the word BONAPARTE engraved on the rock in the original painting, but whosoever morphed the picture of the Guru on the painting did not realise that the breastplate yoke of the horse in the painting was used by the artist to sign the painting. It is not clearly visible in the advertisement, but is very much there. The distinctive darker portion of the neck of the horse is also same in both.
David’s painting of the horse has been criticised heavily by art critics down the line for its stiff and lifeless portrayal of the horse and is cited as a proof of the painter’s ineptness at capturing movement. That such a painting was used to depict a stallion upon which rode the founder of the Khalsa Panth says something about those who cleared this advertisement and then did not react for days.
That such a sacrilegious depiction of the Sikh Guru was allowed to happen over days when Sikh masses are still seething with anger over the unsolved cases of be-adbi of the holy Sikh scriptures is likely to give the Akali Dal a handle to beat the government with.
HOW DID PUNJAB TODAY CATCH THIS CASE OF BLATANT PLAGIARISM AND SACRILEGE?
It was possibly the utter misfortune of whosoever cleared the advertisement that Punjab Today chanced upon this blatant disregard for the religious sentiments of the Sikh community, and BBC had a role to play in it.
Ever since this advertisement first appeared in The Tribune on December 20, something about the horse had been disturbing this writer. Surely, I had not thought that anyone would dare to plagiarise some European painting but then something was not right about the horse. I had a nagging feeling that I have seen it somewhere.
On Saturday, as I was surfing channels, I chanced across BBC World running a long documentary,
titled, "Private Life of A Masterpiece: The Adoration of the Christ Child by Filippo Lippi". A few minutes of the documentary had already lapsed but I decided to stick with it. Painted about ten years before the advent of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, I have always been interested in the painting since it is well known that Hitler had ordered it to be hidden in WW2 and the U.S. Army refused to obey orders because of this painting and there was an actual mutiny on account of the painting. (It is the only known instance during WWII when American officers refused to carry out an order.)
I was engrossed in the documentary when suddenly the "Napoleon Crossing the Alps" popped on the screen. (Please watch the little video clip from the BBC Documentary that I made with the help of my cell phone.)
My worst fears were confirmed. The lazy photoshop wizard who depicted the tenth Sikh Master astride a horse had plagiarised this propaganda depiction of Napoleon.
It is up to the Sikh community whether it wants to make its peace with such depictions, but it surely hurts, and hurts very deep.
It is a sad fact but needs to be pointed out that Napoleon did not even cross the Alps on a horse. It was the painter, a propagandist to the core, who wanted to depict his master in an equestrian scene. The fact is that Bonaparte went across the Alps a few days later, following his troops, and had actually ridden a mule.
The painting of the horse has been actually criticised heavily by art critics down the line for its stiff and lifeless portrayal of the horse and is cited as a proof of David’s ineptness at capturing movement. That such a painting was used to depict a stallion upon which rode the founder of the Khalsa Panth says something about those who cleared this advertisement and then did not react for days.
Considering the fact that it is such a well known painting that thousands of students of art recognise in Punjab, one only wonders at the gall involved in this thievery, that too, when such a momentous day connected with one of the world’s top religious figures was involved.
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