Continued from yesterday (part one HERE)
Rococo style depended on titillation. It was elaborate, opulent and warm. But now with the discoveries of Herculaneum in 1738 and Pompeii 1748, artists were becoming sober in their outlook – they wanted to educate. Winklman said “Dip your brush in intellect“, he thought that artists should raise themselves up beyond craftsmen.
Sober messages emerged: abstinence, patriotism and sacrifice. The virtuous widow had replaced the naked girl of Rococo and the tone of images had changed. The French artist Jacques Louis David (1748 -1825)was determined to revive, in his paintings, the values of the ancients. He was a student of Boucher (1780 -70) and the teacher of Ingres (1780 -1867). He was a firm supporter of Napoleon and supported those who called for Louis XVI’s execution.
Jean Marat, a leader of the revolution became an instant martyr to the cause when he was stabbed to death in his bath by fervent loyalist Charlotte Corday. The letter he holds in his hands is the fake letter of introduction with which she fraudulently entered his home. The work captures David’s grief and anguish over his friends death.
In this next painting ‘The Oath of the Horatii’, David uses Classical figures with noble features to fire the viewer with patriotism. Here we see David’s trademark, the open hand, – a symbol of supressed truth. This particular painting uses the kinetic image of a wheel: the sort of shapes used in the Golden Means. The spokes represent unity in the brothers: power in unity. The upright solidarity of the brothers is contrasted with the soft fluidity of the women who cling together in a dejected mound. They are painted in washed out shades. The theatrical feel of the Roman, as opposed to the Doric pillars, symbolise a ‘back to basics’ attitude to morality. David has faithfully copied the Roman toga’s, helmets and swords of the men, even their Roman noses! Every gesture confirms total commitment to the solemn oath. David is vey much aware that through a work of art, men can become conscious of moral responsibility, and he does not hesitate to make use of it.
More about Jacques Louis David HERE