The Oath Of The Horatii [Jacques-Louis David Art Facts]

Oath Of The Horatii by Jacques-Louis David

The Oath of the Horatii is a massive painting by Jacques-Louis David, which was completed in 1784 and is presently on exhibit at the Louvre in Paris.

The painting was an instant hit with critics and the general public, and it is still one of the most well-known Neoclassical works.

The Legend of Oath of the Horatii

The account of Oath of the Horatii is based on a Roman legend about a fight between the Romans and a rival clan from nearby Alba, which was first told by the Roman historian Livy. They elect official combatants to settle their quarrel rather than continuing a full-scale war. The Horatii are chosen by the Romans, while the Curatii are chosen by the Albans.

The Horatii are seen swearing an oath to defend Rome in the picture. Because the two families are linked by marriage, the women are aware that they will bear the brunt of the conflict. One of the spouses in the artwork is a Curatii daughter, while the other, Camilla, is betrothed to a Curatii brother.

The legend ends with the lone surviving Horatii brother assassinating Camilla, who had condemned his murder of her beloved, blaming Camilla of placing her feelings ahead of her duty to Rome. "The moment which must have preceded the war, when the elder Horatius, assembling his sons in their family home, makes them promise to conquer or die," David is said to have chosen to represent.


What is the Oath of Horatii's art style?


Oath of Horatii Analysis

David, eschewing the Rococo style, organizes the canvas with a mathematical precision that harkens back to the rationalism of antiquity and evokes the inventiveness of the ancient Greeks and the Italian Renaissance. The linear perspectival interior is divided into a balanced nine-part square by David.

The tripartite screen of doric columns and arches at the far end of the chamber frames the three sets of figures, as does its strict construction. As it rakes all over the surface of their bodies, the slant of the light emphasizes the muscularity of the male figures. This light, which enters the space from the upper left, provides a strong sense of physicality by strongly delineating mass and volume, a form of modified tenebrism, and creating, as in Caravaggio's work.


What was the message of David's painting The Oath of the Horatii?

As per Titus Livius' Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City), three members of the Curiatii, a family from Alba Longa, were chosen for a ritual battle against three members of the Roman Horatius family to settle disagreements between the Romans and the latter city.


Oath of the Horatii Style

To illustrate the narrative of the oath, David created a meticulously arranged picture with a scene set in what appears to be a Roman atrium, dominated by three arches in the back that maintain our attention on the foreground activity. The Horatii brothers, framed by the first arch, are a group of three young men linked along with their muscled arms lifted in a tight salute toward their father, who is framed by the central arch.

He extends his right hand to represent a commitment or sacrifice while holding three swords aloft with his left. The rigid, geometric outlines created by the male figures contrast sharply with the softly curved, flowing stances of the women seated behind the father. David used a harsh, clinical light on the people, which contrasts dramatically with the scene's heightened emotion, as if he wanted the viewer to react to the event with a mix of passion and logic.


Techniques within the Oath of Horatii

The foreground figures are accentuated, while the background is de-emphasis. In classical art, as well as that of other ancient Near Eastern cultures, overlapping ranks of profile figures are a recurrent motif.

The core thesis of the hand clasping the swords lies in front of the perspective scheme's vanishing point, which is accentuated by the straight lines of the architectural setting's wall blocks and floor slabs going to it (see schematic).

The use of muted hues emphasizes the importance of the painting's story over the painting itself.

The image is well-organized, displaying the numerology of three as well as the significance of the present time.

The lack of use of the more airy brushstrokes used by Rococo painting, and the emphasis on sharp, harsh details. The painter's method is not presented as a distraction from the subject, and the brushstrokes are unnoticeable.

The men are all shown with straight lines that reflect the columns in the background, indicating rigidity and strength, whilst the ladies are all curved like the arches that the columns support.

Straight lines are also used to indicate strength in the swords, two of which are curved and one is straight, possibly indicating that only one brother would survive the battle.

In contrast to the Rococo style, the painting's frozen quality is meant to stress logic. It represents the principles of the Age of Enlightenment and neoclassical idealism in that it depicts a morally uplifting plot that emphasizes public responsibility over personal gain.


What political significance is assigned to David's Oath of the Horatii?

As the French Revolution neared, artworks encouraging loyalty to the state over clan or clergy abound. The Oath of the Horatii became one of the iconic images of the time, despite being painted nearly four years before the French Revolution.

The three brothers demonstrate their loyalty and unity with Rome before war in the artwork, with their father's full backing. These are men who are willing to give their life in the sake of patriotism. They are citadels of patriotism, with their steadfast stare and taut, spread limbs.

They are representations of Rome's finest values. Their clarity of purpose, reflected by David's simple yet effective use of tonal contrasts, gives the painting, and its theme about the grandeur of patriotic sacrifice, an energizing quality. All of this stands in stark contrast to the tender-hearted women who are sobbing and mourning as they await the outcome of the battle.


Who were the Horatii brothers, and where did they come from?

Although the Roman historian Livy noted that some earlier traditions had reversed this order, the Horatii were Roman and the Curiatii Alban.

During the battle between Rome and Alba Longa under Tullus Hostilius (traditionally 672–642 BC), it was agreed that the outcome of combat between the two sets of brothers would determine the resolution of the issue.


Who commissioned the Oath of the Horatii?

Oath of the Horatii was commissioned by the king's assistant, Charles-Claude Flahaut de la Billaderie, with the idea of it being an allegory about allegiance to the state and hence to the king.

Despite this, David deviated from the agreed-upon scene and instead painted this one. The picture was finished in Rome, where David had a visit from his pupil Jean-Germaine Drouais, who had lately won the Prix de Rome.


Who was the buyer of the Oath of the Horatii?

The Louver Museum in Paris, France.

Who was the artist of the iconic painting The Oath of the Horatii?

Jacques-Louis David

When was Oath of the Horatii painted?


Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David

David was born in the year that new excavations at the ash-buried ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum began to urge a return to antiquity in terms of style (without being, as was long supposed, a main cause of that return).

In 1757, his father, a modest but successful textile dealer, was slain in a duel, and the boy was nurtured by two aunts, reputedly not very gently. He was placed in the studio of Joseph-Marie Vien, a historical painter who catered to the increasing Greco-Roman taste without entirely abandoning the light emotion and sexuality that had been fashionable earlier in the century, after classical literary studies and a course in drawing.

At the age of 18, the clearly gifted emerging artist joined in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture's program. He finally received the Prix de Rome, a government scholarship that not only offered a stay in Italy but also practically guaranteed lucrative commissions in France, after four failures in official contests and years of disappointments that included an effort at suicide (by the stoic method of avoiding food). Antiochus and Stratonice, his prize-winning piece, demonstrates that he was still affected by the Rococo appeal of the painter François Boucher, who had been a family friend, at this time.


Horatii and Curiatii

Combat of the Horatii and the Curiatii by Fulchran-Jean Harriet

Combat of the Horatii and the Curiatii by Fulchran-Jean Harriet

The Romans were at war with their close kinsmen, the Albans, during the reign of Tullus Hostilius (c. 670 BC). Because of their strong ties, Hostilius and the monarch of Alba Longa decided to prevent unnecessary bloodshed when their troops met in the field.

A set of triplets was found in each army. It was decided that these brothers would battle for each side as champions. The Horatii Brothers fought with the Romans, while the Curiatii Brothers battled against them. The loser team's home city would be devastated. All three Curiatii were wounded in the early battle. Two Horatii were assassinated. The three Curiatii were left to confront the solitary remaining Roman champion. He, on the other hand, was the only one who was unharmed. The remaining Horatius, unable to battle three men at once, turned and fled. He was hunted by the three Curiatii.

One, despite being somewhat injured, managed to keep up. Another, who had been gravely injured, trailed followed. The third, who was gravely injured, was a long way behind. Horatius turned around and dispatched the fastest brother now that the brothers had been divided. Then he encountered the second brother and murdered him as well. The third brother, who was severely injured, was no match for Horatius, who was in good health. Declaring that he had slain the first two to avenge his own brothers' deaths, and that he would now murder the third for Rome.

Horatius then thrust his blade into the defenseless man's neck. When Horatius returned to Rome, he ran into his younger sister, who had been betrothed to one of the Curiatii. She began to mourn her fiancé after she knew he was no longer alive. Horatius drew his sword and stabbed his sister in the heart, enraged. Horatius was apprehended and charged with a crime. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death under the law. Horatius' father, on the other hand, stepped up at that very moment and pleaded for his son's life.

He said that his daughter had earned what she had received. If this had not been the case, he would have slain Horatius personally, as was his father's right. Furthermore, he stated that he had already lost two boys and that depriving him of the third would be unjust. Horatius was let free when his father spoke movingly of his father's heroic actions in the war. The sole punishment for such a heinous crime was that the Horatian family had host a celebration for the people, which the family did every year after that.


Jacques-Louis David – The Oath of the Horatii

If you like this article, please share it with others, so perhaps they can also enjoy it. Any of the artwork purchased on ATX Fine Arts accommodates me as an artist/ writer along with helping the site grow organically, thank you.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Turn Your Art Into Income