The Visual Polemic in Tolstoy’s War and Peace: Icons and Oil Paintings
Marcus C. Levitt
The phenomenon of Napoleon and Napoleonism that Tolstoy attacks in War and Peace is not only—arguably, not even primarily—a textual phenomenon. The cult of Napoleon was to a great extent a phenomenon created by the visual arts; portraits of Napoleon and of key moments in his career played a central role in promoting him as a “Great Man.” War and Peace contains numerous direct and indirect references to these images, and Tolstoy uses them to build his narrative. This paper analyzes two key pairs of scenes in which Tolstoy explicitly invokes Napoleonic visual images and undercuts them by juxtaposing them to Russian icons.