NeoClassicism: Jacques Louis David

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Oath of the Horatii and Death of Marat

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NeoClassicism: Jacques Louis David

  1. 1. http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2072707353/Clip from ‘The Da Vinci Code’ : which Neoclassic painting can you see in the background?
  2. 2. Jacques Louis David (1748-1825)Movement: Neoclassicism
  3. 3. Jacques-Louis David: painter to the King, then the Revolution, and then the EmperorDavid was trained in the classicism favoured by the Academy, but was a protagonist of a far more severe style: Neo-Classicism. He ultimately became the painter of the Revolution and even served on the committee that voted for thebeheading of the King (he would later spend time in jail for this).David was friends with Robespierre and Marat, leaders of the Reign of Terror, the revolutions most violent aspect.After the revolution, when Napoleon became Emperor of France, David served as his official painter.‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…’David was raised in the wealthy and powerful family of his uncle, a minister to the King of France. The young Davidwas at first trained in the studio of the great Rococo master François Boucher, a distant relative who also countedFragonard amongst his students. After several failed attempts, David would win the coveted Prix de Rome, a prizegiven annually to one advanced Fine Art student.A New StyleThe competition was open to the alumni of the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts), the preeminent art schoolin France. The prize financed the study of art in Rome for a period of five years. Traditionally, winners took note ofthe works of Antiquity (ancient Greek and Roman art) and of the High Renaissance (the legacy of Raphael &Michelangelo for example) but devoted all their attention primarily to selected masters of the Baroque. In contrast,David reversed this hierarchy focusing on the art of antiquity and the Renaissance.Inspiration from Ancient Greece and RomeWhat emerged in Davids painting was a sharp rejection of the Rococo style. Gone is the fluid brushwork, soft, pastelcolor, and the amorphous organic compositions of Boucher and Fragonard. Of equal importance was the shift insubject. A typical work of the ‘ancien regime’, The Swing, celebrates the pleasures of love and of the experience ofthe ruling class. It is a painting intended to indulge the viewers senses with rich, almost aromatic sights and textures.In contrast, most Neo-Classical paintings take their subjects from Ancient Greek and Roman history.
  4. 4. The Oath of the Horatii, 1784 Oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Commissioned by LouisXVI.
  5. 5. The MythIn this painting the three Horatii brothers have been chosen torepresent the city of Rome in a battle against three brothers fromthe neighboring city of Alba. Here, the three Horatii brothers areswearing an oath on their swords which their father presents tothem to fight until they die for their city. But… one of the Horatiisisters (pictured on the right) is married to one of the men on theother side (the Curiatii). When one of the Horatii brothersreturns home from the battle—the only one surviving—this sistergreets him with condemnation for killing her husband and thefather of her children. Because she puts herself and her familybefore the good of her city, her brother kills her.The message is that one must be willing to sacrifice—evensacrifice ones life and family members—for the state.
  6. 6. The Oath of the Horatii, 1784Rejecting the Rococo style, David organizes the canvas with a geometricprecision that recalls the innovation of the ancient Greeks and of the ItalianRenaissance.Composition: David divides the linear perspectival interior into a balanced nine-part square. This rigorous structure frames the three sets of figures as does thetriple screen of Doric columns and arches at the far end of the room.Light: The angle of the light heightens the muscularity of the male figures as itrakes across the surface of their bodies. This light, which enters the room fromthe upper left, sharply delineates mass and volume, a kind of modifiedtenebrism and creates, as in the work of Caravaggio, a strong sense ofphysicality.As was traditional, Davids Oath of the Horatii was commissioned by the King,Louis XVI as the conclusion of Davids five years of study in Rome.Such a work was to be exhibited in an annual exhibition of new art held in a largeroom or salon in the monarchs palace in Paris, the Louvre (now the museum).
  7. 7. DETAIL: The Oath of the Horatii, 1784 Oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris
  8. 8. DETAIL: The Oath of the Horatii, 1784 Oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris
  9. 9. http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/david-oath-of-the-horatii.htmlQuestion: How is this painting a political statement – what values does it express?The style is a reaction against…?The painting expresses the fundamental values of NeoClassicism which werein direct contrast the French aristocracy.It shows honour, truth, courage, love of country, freedom, honesty, heroism.The message is: ‘sacrifice personal needs for the bigger picture ofdemocracy’.The NeoClassic style is a reaction against the frivolous, self-indulgent Rococo.
  10. 10. ART in MOVIES & TV:In the 9th season of CSIVegas, during the episodecalled ‘Art imitates life’there is a scene in whichthe CSI team arrives at anartist’s studio (JerzySkagg). We see that hesworking on a painting ofa dead man lying in a redconvertible, with his armtrailing along the edge ofthe door.The pose is a homage toThe Death of Marat, a1793 painting by Jacques-Louis David. Jean-PaulMarat was a politicalfigure in the FrenchRevolution before hisassassination in 1793.Art imitating life imitatingArt.
  11. 11. The Death of Marat1793, Oil on canvas,Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brusselshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_of_Marat
  12. 12. DETAIL: The Death of Marat 1793, Oil on canvas, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts,Brussels
  13. 13. ‘The Death of Marat’: historical context and backgroundBy 1793, the violence of the French Revolution increased until the beheadings at the Place de laConcorde became a constant, leading a certain Dr. Joseph Guillotine to invent a machine that wouldimprove the efficiency of the ax and block and therefore make executions more humane. David was inthe thick of it.Early in the Revolution he had joined the Jacobins, a political club that would in time become the mostviolent of the various rebel groups. Led by Georges Danton and the infamous Maximilien Robespierre,the Jacobins (including David) would eventually vote to execute Louis XVI and his Queen MarieAntionette.At the height of the ‘Reign of Terror’ in 1793, David painted a memorial to his great friend, themurdered publisher, Jean Marat. ‘The Death of Marat’, 1793, is an idealized image of Davids friend whois shown holding his murderers (Charlotte Corday) letter of introduction. The bloodied knife lies on thefloor having opened a fatal stab wound. The composition makes reference to the entombment of Christand also to his wounds that he received in his hands, feet and side while on the cross.By 1794, the ‘Reign of Terror’ was almost over. The Jacobins had even begun to execute not onlycaptured aristocrats, but fellow revolutionaries as well.David escaped death by renouncing his activities and was locked in prison in the former palace, theLouvre, until his eventual release by Frances new ruler, Napoleon Bonaparte.Napoleon released David because he believed that the artists talent could serve his political purposes.
  14. 14. Sources:http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/david-oath-of-the-horatii.htmlGardner’s Art through the Ageshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_of_Marathttp://www.wga.hu/index1.html (images)http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2072707353/ (opening clip used as aprediction activity)

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