The Depiction of War in Classical Art

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The act of war has been depicted in art since the beginning of human cultural development. Three famous works spanning the neoclassical, romantic and post-impressionism periods have expressed a wide range of emotion by the artists when visually describing both the honor and horror of war. “The Oath of the Horatii” by Jacques-Louis David, “The Third of May 1808, the Execution of the Defenders of Madrid” by Francisco Goya, and “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso are three unique works that consist of a wide array of artistic elements to show what their creators thought about war.

“The Oath of the Horatii” is a neoclassical painting by Jacques-Louis David that depicts the act of war in a patriotic and heroic perspective. Because a revolution in France was looming at the door, David created the painting in part to urge people to pledge loyalty to the state. In an ironic twist, while the Horatii brothers and their father stand solemn and unemotional, on the right are two women weeping from the fact that one of the women is the sister of the enemy Curiatii brothers and yet the wife of one of the Horatii brothers, while the other women is a sister to the three Horatii brothers and the fiancé of one of the Curiatii. The women cry and are allowed to show emotion, but the brothers do not because it is their duty to fight and die heroically for their country. Aside from the subject matter, Jacque-Louis David also used many physical techniques in his artwork to portray his feelings for the war. The background is bland in color and deemphasized in order to highlight the importance of the characters, and the painting as a whole is not very vivid in order to emphasize the fact that the message being brought forth by the painting is in actuality more important than the painting itself.

The second important work of art portraying war is not from the neoclassical period, but the romantic, and it is “The Third of May 1808, the Execution of the Defenders of Madrid” by Francisco Goya. In...
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