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When Napoleon Bonaparte rode horses born in Haute-Vienne

If the Emperor Napoleon surrounded himself with exceptional men, if humans suffered during the trying and murderous campaigns, the horses were also heroic. They had to fight against the enemy, hunger, cold…

A painter, Alexander-Ivanovich Sauerweid, who specialized in military art and battle scenes, made them immortal. He even made a few of them into legend.

Sauerweid trained in Dresden

Sauerweid’s family originated from Kurland, Latvia, and settled in Germany where he was born in 1783. Trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden, this young artist enjoyed a certain popularity and produced, at Napoleon’s request, a whole series of portraits of horses.

It is the Limousin Anglo-Arabs who feed his inspiration. This breed would indeed have arrived in our region around the 8th century. According to our colleague Laurent Bonilla, author of an article published in 2019 on Limousin, cradle of Anglo-ArabicEugène Gayot would be the inventor of this appellation.

Born in 1808, Gayot sits on the commission for French genealogical books on the horse breed and will manage, among other things, the Pompadour stud farm (Corrèze). In various works, he uses this Anglo-Arabic word. For Napoleon, who was not always careful with his mounts, the Limousin horses were reliable and efficient companions.

“The Embellished”, hero of Eylau

In his book Napoleon’s horses, Philippe Osché evokes this “gelding whose burnt coat brings out the red of the saddle. Sauerweid represents it from nature, held in the hand by a page, in a hunting scene. Confirmation and pace allow us to say Limousin,” writes the author.

Called “The Embellished”, it is one of the thirteen horses whose portraits were commissioned from the artist by the Household of the Emperor.

The animal was born in 1799 near Limoges, certainly in Nexon. Bought for 806 francs by Mr. Delorme, squire, broker, he was ridden by the Emperor during the Battle of Eylau (formerly in East Prussia, now in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad) on February 8, 1807. In March 1812, he appears on the list of forty horses to leave with him at the Congress of Dresden.

“The Embellished” carries the Emperor to the battle of Smolensk, to Borodino, survives the battle of Moscow. Reformed in June 1821, it will end its life in Versailles with the royal crew.

“L’Epicurien” was bought for 3,000 francs from General Count Sebastiani. A price which is well above the average of the time which is around 1,100 francs. This magnificent horse comes from La Bachellerie breeding farms located near Saint-Germain-les-Belles, Pierre-Buffière, Saint-Jean-Ligoure and Nexon, the only ones in Haute-Vienne to have mares that continue to produce.


“The Epicurean”, painted by Sauerweid, was born in 1798. 1.52 m tall, he entered the saddle team in 1806 and was also on the list of horses to go to Dresden. But finally, tired and lame, he could not take part in the Russian campaign. When the Empire fell, he entered the service of the Duc de Berry.

To join the imperial circle, horses must meet several criteria: character, lightness, suitable for hunting and war…

If “L’Embelli” and “L’Épicurien” became immortal thanks to Sauerweid, 1,700 subjects bearing the Limousin mention, or 6% of the imperial workforce, shone on the battlefields. Thus horses “Le Courtois”, “Le Gisors”, “L’Hippogriffe”, “Le Roitelet”, “Le Singe”.

Jean-Francois Julien


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