The Influence of Rousseau's Views on the Relationship Between the State and the Individual in David's Painting "The Oath of the Horatii"

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Eighteenth-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau influenced many French revolutionaries with his ideas. In the time of the Enlightenment, people believed that humankind could progress and improve through the use of reason and science. One of them was French artist Jacques-Louis David, who was official artist to the French revolution (p158, Blk 3). Just as Rousseau had used his publications to reflect on his ideas, David had used art as a media to reflect the ideas and values of the society in the eighteenth century. In this essay, we will be examining the influence of Rousseau's views on the relationship between the state and the individual in David's painting "The Oath of the Horatii".

Rousseau's publication, The Social Contract, states that "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains". His belief is that everyone is equal and nobody has authority over anyone else. This was the source of the revolutionaries' ideas (p96 Blk 3). In order to be free while ‘living in society', Rousseau's solution is that the individual adopts the general will. This view is also reflected in David's painting "The Oath of the Horatii".

David's Neoclassical style was austere and reflected on reason and the clear moral principles of Rousseau's ideas. "The Oath of the Horatii" depicts the presenting of arms from Horatius to his sons. This demonstrates an act of patriotism as one of the brothers and the sister was related by marriage to the enemy Curiatii. He draws on the classical story by the ancient historian Livy, to reflect patriotism and selflessness. The story would have been familiar to the educated contemporaries of David, and this kind of knowledge was important to the Enlightenment (p166, Blk 3). The particular point where the brothers choose between the country and their personal desires deliberately sets people thinking about the message of patriotism. It is a representation of a kind of patriotic heroism or duty in which the best interests of society are...
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