Giuseppe Garibaldi stared into Gustave Le Gray's lens with the kind of piercing look that called men to arms-a fitting gaze for a revolutionary commander who demanded that the Italian people "Give me the ready hand rather than the ready tongue." A master of guerilla warfare, Garibaldi was a champion of the rights of labor and of women's emancipation. He believed in racial equality and the abolition of capital punishment, and led numerous revolutionary campaigns against the repressive French monarchy in the kingdom that included Naples and Sicily. This portrait was made in the midst of his 1860 conquest of Sicily, a decisive event that furthered Garibaldi's efforts to unify Italy under the leadership of King Victor Emmanuel.
An engraving made after Le Gray's contemplative portrait helped publicize Garibaldi's efforts.