This relief was commissioned on 19th August 1833 by the French State for the sum of 80,000 francs. It is a pendant to a relief of the Battle of Austerlitz by Théodore Gechter,on the other side of the arch.The sculptural scheme for the arch, initiated bythe government of the July Monarchy, celebrated the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and the significance of the Battle of Jemappes, fought against the Austrians on 6th Nov.1792, for this regime was that the young Louis-Philippe, then known as the Duke of Chartres, now King of the French, had been present at it, as commander of a division, and had assisted the revolutionary armies, led by General Dumouriez, in turning it into a victory. (AN. F21/579)
A contemporary guide to the arch, gives the following description of the relief:
general in command, followed by his staff, the field marshals Ferrand, Sténebosse,
Rosière, Boisières etc. urge on their troops, brought momentarily to a
standstill by the obstacles put in their way by the strong Austrian position.
To the left,
Colonel Thouvenot throws himself into an attack on the enemy's right flank.
Drouet has had his leg broken by a gunshot, and receives assistance from an
generals who advance with Dumouriez can be seen the Duke of Chartres, to whom
Dumouriez has entrusted the command of the centre; he rallies the columns in
disarray, and breaks through the second rank of the enemy's redoubts.
right, a senior Austrian officer is taken prisoner. The first Parisian battalion
makes a vigorous stand against a body of cavalry, arriving to support the left
wing of the enemy, which is beating its retreat in great disorder.
vilages shown are Jemmapes, Cuesmes, and Berthaimont. Clairfayt occupied
Jemappes and Cuesmes. Beaulieu pitched camp above Berthaimont."
and G. Coulon, Notice Historique de l'Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile,
According to the art critic, Gustave Planche, the Minister of the Interior, Adolphe Thiers, had first approached the sculptor Antonin Moine for a sketch of this scene, but having shown some admiration for Moine's model, he then turned to Marochetti for a new one. This was cited by Planche, always inimical to the work of Marochetti, as one among many examples of Thiers' inconstancy in his allocation of state patronage. Why, Planche asked, should Thiers have given so important a commission to Marochetti, who had not, at this stage given any proof of his ability? Planche asserts that Marochetti modelled his sketch on a horizontal plane in wax. (G.Planche, Portraits d'artistes,II, Paris, 1853, vol.2, pp.198 and 205) The model was presented at the workshop at the foot of the arch by 28th April 1834. (AN. F13/2030) Although Marochetti seems to have been paid in full by 15th May 1835, on 25th October of that year he wrote to the Director of Public Works at the Ministry of the Interior, asking to borrow certain pieces of armoury from the Artillery Museum, to help him with his work. He wrote that he would send Monsieur Valcher, his praticien, to pick these up. Valcher, or Walcher, was an established sculptor in his own right, but continued for some time to act as Marochetti's most trusted assistant. (AN. F13-1031)
Theodore Gechter was less happy with his assistants, one of whom appears to have caused great delays in the completion of his relief. Marochetti, along with a number of other sculptors involved on the Arc de Triomphe, attended on a commission, which included the sculptors Etex, Cortot and Rude, to judge on the state of Gechter's work. Marochetti signed the report, as did his colleagues. (AN. F13/1031)
In his 1904 biography of the sculptor Francois Rude, Louis de Fourcaud provides us with a fascinating glimpse of conversational exchanges which took place among the sculptors working on the arch. Marochetti made some memorable contributions to these discussions, sparked off by the architect's placing in their work-space of inspirational casts of Antique reliefs. Fourcaud wrote as follows:
'A conversation which I had many years ago with the sculptor Henri Lemaire will indicate better than any other document the spirit of our image carvers of the Arc de Triomphe. "We never went to the site without paying a visit to the Hangar de l'Epure, where bas-reliefs from the Arch of Titus were exhibited. There we would often come together, Feuchere, Cortot, Foyatier, Marochetti, Rude and myself, and we would stay on there, discussing the masterpieces of Antiquity, the Athenian reliefs, the unfolding military saga of Trajan's Column. Each had his characteristic say in the matter. Cortot was forever repeating that "Sculpture is a serious art". Rude would exclaim "What men those were, the Ancients!.....", and Marochetti, that subtle and passionate Italian, full of bizarre prescriptions, concluded that "it was necessary to make modern sculpture which was at the same time Antique". Irresistibly we were drawn to speak of the great deeds commemorated on the triumphal arch, of the Revolution, the Empire.....Ah! Above all of the Empire....... One day, Pradier, who only came to join us on rare occasions, made the observation, "The Emperor had grandeur, and lots of it, but without grace". Rude who had a real distaste for this excessively graceful sculptor, clenched his fists, and Marochetti answered, "Don't mess with the Emperor, Monsieur Pradier. He was an Ancient"'.
(L. de Fourcaud, Francois Rude, sculpteur. Ses oeuvres et son temps (1784-1855), Paris, 1904, pp.191-2).
Gustave Planche was highly critical of the Jemmapes relief. It seemed that the artist "had proposed to himself to pile up......the largest possible number of figures and episodes. Even supposing that the figures in themselves had been good and well grouped, this would have constituted at best a picture,it was certain never to be a bas-relief. But Marochetti's figures are common-looking and arranged in confused groups; there are so many of these groups, placed on planes so distant one from the other that the eye, instead of following calmly the line of participants in the action, perceives only masses of stone and holes. The horses in the foreground look like veritable mountains, and the soldiers profiled against the background have so little relief that the background appears naked." (G.Planche, Portraits d'artistes II, vol.2, Paris 1853, p.205)
However, a critic in the magazine L'Artiste conceived a very high opinion of it, despite having felt some doubt about Marochetti's talents hitherto. "This work.....showed in him a healthy and acute understanding of the character and requirements of monumental sculpture, which was absent from the other sculpture on this monument. Not only was the execution of Marochetti's bas-relief superior to that of the other bas-reliefs , but it was even the only one which showed a proper calculation of the effect to be produced". (L'Artiste, 1838, p.173)
Galignani's New Paris Guide of 1843 is equally fulsome in its praise of this relief: "The composition of this magnificent piece of sculpture is very able : the animation of the various groups, and the admirable perspective that is observed in it, constitute one of the most wonderful pictures in stone that have ever been executed". All those pictorial qualities, which for Planche seemed inappropriate in a relief, were clearly seen as positive qualities by the author of this guide.
Two plaster casts of the maquette for the Jemappes relief have survived. One of them is in a private collection in France. The other is at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Turin.