Neo-Classicism is the aesthetic and artistic style that prevailed in European art from the late 18th century till the early 19th century. It is characterized by the inherent appeal to the antiquity. However, Neo-Classicism differs from the classical approach of the 17th century and the early 18th century.
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) was a French painter, an outstanding representative of Neo-Classicism. He studied at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. His first works were performed in the Rococo style. However, after studying in Rome (1775-1780) and being under the influence of the art of the ancient Rome, David developed his rigorously epic manner of painting.
After returning to France, David found himself at the top of the reaction tendency to the “liberties” of Rococo. He was among the people who tried to express the heroic ideals of freedom through the images of antiquity as it was in tune with prevailed public mood in France. David created paintings devoted to the citizenship, duty, heroism, and ability to sacrifice.
David shared the ideals of the French Revolution. He was an active figure in the revolution as the member of the Convention in 1789-1794. He was among those who organized the massive popular festivals as well as created the National Museum of Louvre. In 1804, Napoleon appointed David “the prime painter”. The artist praised Napoleon in a great number of pictures which proved his transition from strict Classicism to Romanticism.
After the restoration of the power of the Bourbons in 1815, David was forced to move to Brussels, i.e. away from the public life. David’s works had the huge impact on the development of the European painting.
David became famous after painting “The Oath of Horatii” in 1784. This masterpiece depicts three brothers, who, according to the legend, won the match with three brothers Curiatii in the dispute about the power in Rome.
In fact, “The Oath of Horatii” was painted as the loose interpretation of Corneille’s tragedy. In the painting, we can see the courtyard of the ancient Roman house, where the old father, i.e. the patriarch of the family, accompanies his sons to fight against the enemies of Rome. The flood of light pours around them in the olive-gray twilight.
Horatii swear to fulfill their patriotic duty. Artist convincingly conveyed the common aspiration and the unwavering will to win. This masterpiece shows three people, but the single impulse, i.e. three people, but the single will. Having determined and courageous faces and strong, muscular arms, they swear to win or die in the name of their homeland. Lifting high the weapons of war, the old father blesses his sons and calls the heaven to witness uttered oaths (Schnapper).
The composition of the painting is simple and logical. Space is unevenly distributed. The warriors and their father take much more space than the group of women on the right side. This emphasizes that the artist tried to draw attention specifically to the group of the heroic men.
The figure of the father in the center represents the idea of the socio-tribal beginning which influences the actions of heroes. In fact, this figure is the compositional center of the canvas.
The muted colors of yellow, white, and gray tones dominate in the picture. However, the red cape of the old Horace stands out among the other colors and tones (AllPosters).
The father, sacrificing personal feelings and sending his sons to death in order to protect the Republic, was seen as a hero for those who participated in the revolutionary events and the storm of the Bastille. None of other painters expressed the mood of the French revolutionary bourgeoisie in such a full and strong manner as Jacques-Louis David had done.
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