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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Memoirs

Reviews: Uniform Plates & Studies

Napoleon's Last Grande Arme: Eyewitness Portraits From the 1813 Campaign

Umhey, Alfred. Napoleon's Last Grande Arme: Eyewitness Portraits From the 1813 Campaign. (Age of Napoleon 200th Anniversary Series, 1). 347 pages, 148 colour plates, illustrated glossary of uniform terms. Berkeley, CA: Military History Press, 2005. ISBN# 0974877409. Hardcover. $265.


Napoleon's Last Grande Armee Cover

Napoleon's Last Grande Arme is the first work published by Military History Press and it is hoped that all their subsequent volumes will be of the same high quality. The book is written by Alfred Umhey, an acknowledged expert on uniforms of the Napoleonic period. Alfred Umhey served as curator of the German Army Museum at Rastatt, he was a manager for a militaria auction house, and is now an independent consultant for museums and historical exhibitions. The book is a bound collection of 148 uniform plates in full colour; the originals were probably painted in the summer of 1813 by an eyewitness at the time.

In the early part of the twentieth century French historian and collector Gabriel Cottreau commissioned French artist Charles Brun to copy plates from two portfolios that he possessed; the portfolios were entitled the Freiberg Manuscript and the Dresden Manuscript. Brun produced 98 plates from the original illustrations which are reproduced in this volume. The artist for the original Freiberg Manuscript plates was, in the opinion of military artist Richard Kntel, a student of at the Freiberg Mining Academy whose name was Kurt Alexander Winkler (1794-1862). The original Dresden Manuscript was painted by Christoph Ernst Benjamin Bommer and totaled 92 uniform illustrations; Brun reproduced 35 of these as full colour illustrations.

The book is divided into two main parts the first being Brun's representation of Kurt Winkler's plates from the Freiberg Manuscript, each of the original Winkler illustrations being shown with a descriptive text on the opposite page and Brun's own painting on the following page with text opposite. Also included are the tracings that Brun took from the original plates. There are a total number of 113 full-colour plates 50 original Winkler plates and 63 of the Brun plates. The second part is Brun's interpretation of Bommer's work, 35 full-colour plates with accompanying text on the opposite page.

Example of Freiberg Plate
Example of Dresden Plate


"Appendix 1" of the book is a glossary of uniform terminology and includes illustrations to accompany the text. "Appendix 2" of the book is entitled "The World of Picture Manuscripts." "Appendix 3" is entitled "The Visual Record and the Great Source Debate." Also included are a detailed bibliography and full indexes of Brun's, Winkler's and Bommer's plates, as well as an index of people's names who are mentioned in the book and an index of military units mentioned in the text.

The book as already won two awards in the 3rd Annual Asian Print Awards 2005 the Gold Award in the Limited Editions & Art Reproduction Category, and the Silver Award in the Embellishment Category. In my opinion Alfred Umhey and the Military History Press have produced a book that is a must for anyone who is interested in the Napoleonic period.

A word of thanks should be given to the following people who directly or indirectly assisted with the research for the book, Robin Bates of Red Lancer who acquired the original 98 Brun plates that had been produced for Gabriel Cottereau and 30 of the original Winkler plates, and, Yves Martin and Gerard Madelin who provided a further 17 Winkler plates. Scott Bowden, Rene Chartrand, Guy C. Dempsey, Jr. and George Nafziger who provided additional research and the special contribution of Howie Muir who is a member of the Napoleon Series editorial team.

Samples of the plates can be viewed at: Military History Press

Reviewed by Tony Broughton.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2005

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