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Jacques Louis David - The Oath of the Horatii

tby Alexandra Tuschka

Irony of fate! This painting was commissioned by Louis XVI and yet could not later be more strongly associated with the French Revolution. The narrative, however, to which David alludes here, goes back to Livius, who lived from 59 BC to 17 AD.

Three fighters can be seen holding out their hands to swear. They have handed over their swords to the man in a shining red robe. He raises them reverently in the air. On the right of the picture are mourning women. An episode from the past can be seen. The three fighters are Horatians and at the same time brothers, the man opposite their father. Here, in this scene, they swear allegiance to the Roman Republic. Even the women, who could not be more clearly opposed to them, even compositionally, cannot stop them from their patriotic project. The women don't care about affiliation, they act out of love and want peace. Sabina can be seen on the right, she is a Kuratian and married to a Horatian, while Camilla, next to her, is herself a Horatian and engaged to a Kuratian. She would later be killed by her own brother as she would weep for the death of her lover.

This painting is considered the height of classicism . The deliberate and exaggerated glorification of antiquity is the main theme of this era. Helmets, swords and clothing are based on Roman models. The clear composition of three round arches, which also divide the three groups of people, is also typical of classicism . The outlines and colors are clearly set off from each other. No great emphasis was placed on the play of light and shadow. Only the strong drop shadow reinforces the drastic impression of the scene and points to the coming disaster. Symbolically, the shadow of the men has already fallen on a woman and her child.

Even though David will hardly have hidden an appeal to riot at the time of its creation, the French Revolution began only 5 years after this painting. Today, a connection between the painting and history is often interpreted into it.

Jacques Louis David - The Oath of the Horatii

Oil on canvas, 1794, 330 x 425 cm, Musée de Louvre in Paris


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