Hannibal Crossing the Alps
Another Art History Class

Jack, my 4-year old grandson, knows that William Turner's The Fighting Téméraire is my favorite painting. Even though Marc Chagall's I and the Village is his, he takes special interest whenever I mention Turner's name. Several weeks ago, I mentioned to Jack and Owen, Jack's 2-year old brother, about Turner's Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps. They both wanted to see the painting, which is not even close to one of my favorites. However, I am interested in discovering why Turner spent so much time in 1812 painting Hannibal crossing the Alps.

Hannibal Hannibal
Wanting to help Jack and Owen expand their knowledge base, I told them about Hannibal crossing the Alps with 40-elephants. The mention of elephants or any animal interests them. They love going to the Indy Zoo where elephants fascinate them. We discussed where elephants are found in the world. Jack knew that some came from Africa, which is where Hannibal got his elephants. He brought them up through Spain and southern France to the Alps. We talked about transporting the elephants over rivers like the Rhône River.

I was well aware that mentioning the Rhône that Jack would comment upon Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night on the Rhône. Jack knows that van Gogh painted two Starry Nights and will tell you the difference between the two paintings and their titles.

Starry Night over the Rhone Starry Night
Starry Night over the Rhône Starry Night

We then discussed what it would be like to ride elephants over the mountains covered with deep snows. After this mini-lecture on Hannibal crossing the Alps, I asked them if they could find Hannibal riding an elephant in the Turner painting. Owen opted out of my quiz, but Jack did not. I showed Jack a print of Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps. After a couple of minutes, Jack found the very minute figure on an elephant with Hannibal seated atop it.


Once Jack discovered Hannibal and the elephant, Owen decided that he needed to see it.

Jack and Owen

Jack loves learning, but he also loves teaching. He was anxious to show Owen the elephant and Hannibal. When his mother returned home, you guessed it; he gave her the quiz.

We sat there musing over Hannibal's great effort of getting all the elephants up the mountains. Owen seemed to get the difficulty of using elephants that lived in the jungle environment to climb snowy mountains.


Owen thought that Hannibal would have had an easier task of driving Jack's Hot Wheels over the Alps. Owen picked one of Jack's cars, because it turns white when the air is cool and blue when it is hot. Since the Alps are cold, Owen seemed to think that would be a good idea. Besides, Jack and Owen have well over 40-Hot Wheels, which was the number of elephants that Hannibal had. Owen's idea was pretty good, regardless of his age.

As I ended their art history class, Jack wanted to take a picture of me pointing out Hannibal and the elephant that he was riding. It seems that he wants to take a picture of me, since I am always taking pictures of them. This picture is pretty good for a 4-year-old.


I did not go into the reason that Hannibal was invading Italy in 218 BCE during the Second Punic War. Additionally, I thought that attempting to explain why the name Punic came about would be a stretch for my two collegiate students. Nonetheless, if you are wondering, Punic comes from the name that the Romans called the Carthaginians, Poeni, which comes from Punici or the root of the word for Phoenicians who first colonialized Carthage. The Romans also called this war, the Hannibalic War.