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Jacques Louis David. (1748-1825). The Oath of the Horatii. (1784). 

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Jacques Louis David. (1748-1825). The Oath of the Horatii. (1784).

Ordered by Louis XVI this painting is a triumph for David with the show of 1785. Intended to develop the civic direction of the public and carrying a patriotic topic, this picture becomes the principal reference of noble and heroic historical painting. It is with this painting of ancient inspiration to the rigorous composition limiting itself to the essential elements that David introduces the neoclassicism into the French painting. The painting illustrates an episode of the History of Rome of Tite-Live, the combat of the three Horatii, champions of Rome, against the three Curiaces, champions of Alba, to put a end to the war which opposes the two cities. Inspired of the tragedy of Corneille, the moment represented is that where the brothers lend oath in front of their father to win or to die. On the right, the women cry the fratricidal fight. Sabine, wife of Horatii, is the sister of Curiaces; Camille, sister of Horatii, are promised in marriage to the one of Curiaces. The dramatic intensity is returned by a set of strong lines which guide the glance and by a clear opposition of the colors, pure and honest, the red announces the sacrifice of Horatii. In the tragedy of Corneille, after the death of two of his brothers, Horace carries it, being thus the only one of the six champions to survive. Overpowered reproaches by his Camille sister, it kills it. Judged for murder, it is finally discharged, after a vibrating plea of his father. With Horace the large features of the hero of Corneille are set up. The tragedy already poses, for Corneille, the relationship between the love, the honor and the duty.

The point of view of the witness is on the level of the swords. The glance automatically follows the gesture of the 4 characters. In the second time it becomes aware of the presence of the women. 

The father is in the center of painting, the 3 brothers on the third left, framed by 3 tension fields and close to 2 natural points of interest. The group of the women is on the right third near a natural point of interest. The central composition forms an isosceles triangle whose point is at the top of the 3 swords. 

Each group of character occupies a third of pictorial space. The 3 brothers are on the left third, the father is in the center, the women are located on the right third. The composition is clear and rigorous. With the back the 3 arcades recall the 3 thirds of the front one.

The picture is built on the ascending diagonal left -hand side on the right. This one separates the scene from the oath of the remainder of the composition. 

Details : 

The 3 brothers are linked, they are held and are well aligned to lend oath in the same gesture.

Sabine married to Horace and sister of Curiaces, and Camille, sister of Horatii and been engaged to Curiaces are dismayed.

The color of the cape which the father of Horatii carries symbolizes the blood which will be versed.

The light comes certainly from the left by an opening located behind the 3 brothers.

Colors : Contrast between complementary colors.

Similar painting : 

Jacques Louis David. The Intervention of the Sabine Women. (1799).