Even though Jacques-Louis David (pronounced Daaav-EED, I know, it’s French and weird) was considered to be the greatest painter of the 18th century. A Frenchman who worked mostly in a neoclassicist style, he’s not much discussed in my art history classes aside from “the guy who painted ‘The Death of Marat’.”
Surprisingly though, his history painting “Oath of the Horatii” is what comes up first under his Google artwork page, depicting a scene in early Rome where three brothers agree to sacrifice their lives for the city, placing civic loyalty over everything else. These historical themes were useful for David, as a vehicle to actively support the French Revolution, since loyalty to state is what’s most important here too.
“The Death of Marat,” number two for David according to Google, also has ties to the Revolution and is said to be the most well-known image that came from it. Jean-Paul Marat was a French revolutionary leader and journalist who had a skin condition that was helped by a bath. Which is why here he lies in the tub, holding out a piece of paper that in French reads, Because I am unhappy, I have a right to your help.”
Marat was stabbed in the bath by his political enemy Charlotte Corday who did not bother fleeing and was eventually tried and executed for his murder. You can’t see her here in the painting, but her name is also written on the piece of paper Marat holds, as he’s writing with his last breaths – a martyr for the Revolution.
Napoleon Crossing the Alps comes in at number three for David on Google, showing the breadth of his political alignment throughout his career and life – he aligned with the new ruler after being imprisoned.
|Oath of the Horatii, 1784, Louvre|
|Death of Marat, 1793, Royal Museums of the Fine Arts of Belgium|
|Napoleon Crossing the Alps, 1800, Château de Malmaison|
And now it’s a happy art history Sunday!