French artist Jacques-Louis David’s The Oath of the Horatii (1784-85) is an oil on canvas painting in the Neo-Classical style. With the oath sworn on three swords by the three sons of Horatius, triplet brothers sworn to defend Rome against the city-state of Alba Longa in a duel against the Curiatii, as its focal point, David’s painting uses myth and legend from the ancient world in combination with his visual style to make an argument for the Republic before the French Revolution. The Horatii risk their lives (and two of the brothers die) in order to fight for the safety and continuation of the Roman Republic: a theme that champions the public over the private interest. David’s genius is twofold: his masterful composition techniques are intricately bound with his use of the classical and historical subject. The story is enforced by his stylistic techniques. In calling for political revolution in France, David’s Oath of the Horatii uses the visual techniques of fore-shadowing, chiaroscuro, linear composition, and perspective in order to stress his theme of the public over the personal interest.
The visual imagery of David’s painting supports his call for a democratic republic of the people in France. When the viewer’s eye approaches the art work, it is drawn to the swords held by an aged father to his young and strong sons. Their arms extend in a Roman salute (another mark of Republican values) to the sword, and the angled stance of their bodies with firm and muscular limbs create a symmetry to stress the central importance of the oath. David also employs chiaroscuro, the opposition of light and dark, to create the illusion that the swords are supplying the light for the painting. The swords, projecting the light of democracy and individual duty to uphold the interests of the public, dominate the painting; and they (not to mention the men swearing the oaths) are emphasized in the foreground to stress their importance. David’s artistic technique even...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document