Jacques-Louis David Oath of the Horatii
The Oath of the Horatii, painted in Rome in 1784-1785 by a young Jacques-Louis David, is one of the most memorable depictions of a legendary episode from the annals of Ancient Rome. Jacques-Louis David, a figure who went on to dominate French painting during the Revolutionary era and has since taken his place as one of the most esteemed artists of all time, was at the time based in Rome after winning the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1774. Having experienced first hand the diversity of classical Italian painting and studied objects from antiquity, David created the iconic Oath of the Horatii which was quickly considered, both at the time and in retrospect, as the visual manifesto of the Neoclassical style, conjuring an ancient atmosphere, and reflecting a profound sense of courage and pride. David's painting is also notable for having invented the raised arm salute, a pose appropriated by the German and Italian fascists some one and a half centuries later, having not originated in the Roman era as is widely believed.
David's canvas depicts a scene from antiquity in which, to avoid further loss of men and equipment, the warring cities of Rome and Alba chose to stage a right to the death between the Horatii brothers chosen by the Romans and the three Curiatii brothers, as designated by the Alban. The prospective winners, representing their respective city, encourage the hegemony and celebration of one another in a spirit of humility and camaraderie. In The Oath of the Horatii David has chose to depict the moment the Horatii brothers pledged their allegiance to the Fatherland, here personified by the physical father of the three brothers, thus swearing to conquer or die as they receive their father's arms of combat.
The construction of the table is based on taut lines, sharp and geometric shapes, further adding ceremony to this highly symbolic moment, which attracts the viewer's attention at the very first glance. David highlights the courage, loyalty and the personal sacrifice of the Horatii, and their amassed family, staging the the women of the family - mother, wife and sister – unable to hide their sadness at the departure of the combatants and clustered in an expressionless mass on the floor. In the tumultuous years preceding the cataclysmic French Revolution the values of patriotism, a sense of duty, and the selflessness of citizens would come to spellbind both the working and ruling classes in a new personification of what it is meant to be a people.
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