October 18, 2011

Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii [1774]

Another attempt to get names and dates firmly entrenched before my mid-term. I'm starting to dislike this uber-masculine painting; too much like Charleton Heston

Jacques-Louis David's The Oath of the Horatii is regarded as a paradigm of neoclassical art. The details are much sparser than those of Rococo painting and it is as if we have been transported back to 7th century Rome.

At the urging of their father, stoic sons swear an oath on their swords to defend their city at the cost of their own lives. David is beginning to depict political desires leading to the French Revolution and reaches back into classical history for a theme to represent a new ideal of politics; in this case, a scene from a Roman legend where sons from one of two warring cities agree to end the dispute by fighting the other.

The canvas is divided between men and women. The limp wives and children of the Horatii are on the right of the canvas. They are distraught, disbelieving. Their posture reveals them to be private, sentimental, maybe even hysterical. A boy is being cradled by his mother. Maybe she is trying to plug his ears against what the men are pledging. The boy, however, is interested; making eye contact with the men who make the oath.The men are erect, the women meltingly weak.

David's world would have been peopled by men. His friends, pupils and teachers were all male. He married late. To him, women were excluded from the virtues of bravery. Considering David was a big proponent for social change, his idea of woman was somewhat backward.


Nancy said...

This is the painting I always had to memorize or write a paper on about something. I really grew tired of it. I just remember his use of focus, and how he arranged his space. I'm enjoying the photos but this period is not my fave. I do like his Death of Marat which is simpler in composition.

The Clever Pup said...

Nancy, that one is coming up. I've been studying the Death of Marat in my Paris Salon class too.

Alberti's Window said...

I love the comparison with Charleton Heston. Ha ha! Perhaps one could find similarities between "Ben-Hur" and David's "Rape of the Sabine Women"?

Good luck on your upcoming exam. I think blogging is a great way to solidify in your mind different historical events, dates, and canvases.