The conquest of Constantine (1836/1837)

The conquest of Constantine (1836/1837)

  • Episode of the retreat of Constantine in November 1836, attack of a convoy of wounded by the Arabs on November 24, 1836.

    RAFFET Denis-Auguste-Marie (1804 - 1860)

  • Episode of the retreat of Constantine in November 1836, the square of Marshal Changarnier attacked by the Arabs.

    RAFFET Denis-Auguste-Marie (1804 - 1860)

  • Fight in the Grande rue de Constantine on October 13, 1837.

    RAFFET Denis-Auguste-Marie (1804 - 1860)

Episode of the retreat of Constantine in November 1836, attack of a convoy of wounded by the Arabs on November 24, 1836.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Episode of the retreat of Constantine in November 1836, the square of Marshal Changarnier attacked by the Arabs.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Fight in the Grande rue de Constantine on October 13, 1837.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: June 2008

Historical context

France's difficulties in conquering Constantine

If the conquest of Algeria decided by Charles X in 1830 and pursued by his successor Louis-Philippe very quickly gave control of Algiers to France, it was different for the rest of the country. Then in 1837, the second operation commanded by General Damrémont succeeded in seizing the city, in particular thanks to the decisive breakthrough of the Zouaves of Colonel de Lamoricière.

Auguste Raffet's prints deal with these two military expeditions. The first two prints present episodes from the retreat of 1836, when the French army had to retreat in the face of Algerian resistance, the third is a vision of 1837, when the troops had managed to enter the country. city ​​of Constantine.

Image Analysis

Real scenes of war

In mentalities, the association between war and Algeria refers to the conflict for independence (1954/1962). However, more than a century earlier, the conquest was also marked by a succession of deadly battles. These three lithographs are clear evidence of this.

Recurring elements are to be noted. The confrontation between the French military and Algerian troops is at the heart of the action. The soldiers are still depicted in their dark uniforms, topped with a cap and armed with a bayonet rifle. In the first two images, these soldiers appear to be following orders. They cover the retreat of the wounded, are lined up in a square to avoid being overwhelmed by the fury of the attackers. Their formation reveals a precise alignment demonstrating the rigor of command despite the harshness of the fighting.

Contrary to this image of discipline, Algerian troops offer more movement and disorganization. The opposition between a professional army and rebel troops is clearly marked. For this, the artist chose to represent the Muslim fighters using light tones to mark the contrast of attitude with the French soldiers. The presence of horses on the Muslim side only reinforces this impression of movement and fury.

The third picture is different in that the combat is not a pitched battle, on well-defined terrain, but an urban guerrilla scene in which French troops face fierce resistance. The rebels are sheltered behind barricades. In this image, the French army appears confident of its strength: the man in the foreground showing a young Algerian how to use his weapon conveys this feeling of serenity despite the proximity of the confrontation.

Interpretation

A victory over the Algerians and over the past?

The making of these prints is contemporary with the events mentioned. Raffet presents the warlike episodes which led to the capture of Constantine. This artist, who designed the boards for History of the Revolution French de Thiers, is an expert in illustrating major historical scenes.

The representation of French and Arab troops allows us to interpret the way in which contemporaries perceived this conquest of Algeria. These elements are also not far from certain principles of Orientalist art such as the fascination with the temperament of the local populations, the courage of the colonizers but also of the colonized, the presence of thoroughbred horses that the Arabs knew how to handle. perfection…

Muslim rebels are seen as fierce soldiers, unafraid of death and always ready to charge the enemy. On the other hand, their rudimentary military strategy caused many losses. On the contrary, the French soldiers apply strict instructions, behave like a real army, for example protecting their wounded in order to organize a retreat in good order and ensure, in the end, victory.

Many references to the Napoleonic epic are present. The fury of the Arab troops is reminiscent of that of the Mamluks at the Battle of the Pyramids during the Egyptian campaign in 1798. The square formation, with soldiers grouped around the flags, evokes many battles of the Empire. The desire to preserve the wounded reflects the need for an organized retreat, avoiding losses as much as possible, which the imperial army had only partially succeeded in doing in Russia. Finally, the guerrilla scene echoes the struggle in Spain where the soldiers of the Empire had discovered this type of fighting against the patriots of Cadiz or elsewhere.

In these works, Raffet has always sought to magnify the Grande Armée. In these three images, did he want to mitigate the specter of imperial defeat by presenting victorious episodes of the conquest of Algeria? A quarter of a century after Waterloo, the question can be asked.

  • Algeria
  • battles
  • colonial conquest

To cite this article

Vincent DOUMERC, "The conquest of Constantine (1836/1837)"


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