Oath of the Horatii
Oil on canvas, approx. 11’ x 14’
Oath of the Horatii is the most famous example of a classical model of virtue. Keep in mind that Louis 16th was still on the throne.
This painting illustrating the willing sacrifice of three young men for the integrity of the Roman Republic was interpreted by the French bourgeoise as a call to revolution.
Characteristics of style: shallow space, austere, rigorous linearity, clarity of contour, sculpturesque sharpness of modeling and harsh but clear handling of light and shadow, carefully modeled figures and precisely painted archeological details
Three Roman arches of the severely simple setting separate the figures like niches for statuary.
The figures are spot-lit against a plain background.
To assure historical accuracy, David dressed dummies in Roman costumes and made Roman helmets that he could then copy.
David’s subject matter came directly from the 17th-century tragedy Horace by Pierre Corneille. This was a touchstone of Classical drama known by any educated person—in the way we, today, would know Hamlet or Macbeth.
The narrative of the play: The triplet champions of early Rome were summoned to settle the war with neighboring Alba by combat with that city’s champions—who just happened to be their own cousins—the likewise triplet Curiatii.
Tangled web of kinship: the wife of the youngest Horatius, the only warrior of the six to survive, was sister to the Curiatii. His own sister Camilla was engaged to one of his victims. Camilla also becomes a victim. When the young Horatius finds her mourning her beloved Curiatii, he kills his own sister on the spot.
In the center stands the father of the Horatii, Horatius Proclus, dedicating the swords of his 3 sons who swear to defend the Roman republic against the plotting Curiatii—that is, to triumph or die for the honor of Rome.
At the right, the women and children collapse in a series of fluid, rhythmic curves. They include the sisters of the Horatii, one of whom is engaged to an enemy combatant and is overcome by her tragic destiny. In the shadows, the wife of Horatius comforts her grandchildren.
This illustrated the new mood of self-sacrifice instead of self-indulgence.
Just as the French Revolution would overthrew the decadent royals, this painting marked a new age of stoicism.
David demonstrated the difference between the old and new through contrasting men’s straight, rigid contours with the curved, soft shapes of the women.
Men willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good versus the women who can not rise above their personal, selfish feelings.
Much in demand.
oil on canvas
5’ 8” x 7’ 11 3/4”
One of the most intelligent and fascinating women of her period.
Furnished her salon in the popular Pompeian style.
Here she reclines n the classical manner on a chaise lounge, just as she might have done on the days when she received guests.
Flowing white gown is draped with deep folds reminiscent of antique statuary.
The only other pieces of furniture are the footstool and bronze lamp, both drawn from Pompeian originals.
Clarity of the outlines of the figure, silhouette of the head, austere setting, orderly elegant effect.
After the French Revolution, David took on the role of power broker, with far-reaching effects. He was among those who voted for the death of Louis 16th. In addition, his interests in Greek and Roman antiquities influenced the official art of Europe and America well into the 19th century.
David’s craftsmanship was on a par with that of any of the master painters of the past.
Moreover, he influenced future painters like Picasso, who owed some of cool, objective character of their work to the neoclassical art of David.
Perspective: Madame Récamier
oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 31 7/8 in.
A meticulous, skillful technician, Magritte is noted for works that contain an extraordinary juxtaposition of ordinary objects or an unusual context that gives new meaning to familiar things. This juxtaposition is frequently termed magic realism, of which Magritte was the prime exponent. In addition to fantastic elements, he displayed a mordant wit, creating surrealist versions of famous paintings, as in Madame Recamier de David in which an elaborate coffin is substituted for the reclining woman in the famous portrait by Jacques Louis David.
Following Napoleon’s rise to power in 1799, David, previously an ardent republican, switched his allegiance to the new dictator. David’s new artistic task, the glorification of Napoleon.
Napoleon recognized the potential of David’s art as propaganda.
Napoleon shared the popular enthusiasm for antiquity. His chosen models were Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.
Napoleon believed that Caesar’s career and his own had many parallels.
The fasces became the emblem of authority and the eagles of the Roman legions the insignia of the French battalions.
The forms and images of ancient glory had a vast appeal to Napoleon, a man of modest birth.
Napoleon envisioned France as the leader of a new Roman empire.
Napoleon Crossing the Saint-Bernard
oil on canvas, 8’ 11” x 7’ 7”
An early, idealized account of Napoleon leading his troops across the Alps into Italy in 1800.
Napoleon actually made the crossing on a donkey.
David depicts Napoleon calmly astride a rearing horse, exhorting us to follow him.
Windblown cloak, extension of his arm—suggests that Napoleon controls the winds as well.
David flattered Napoleon by reminding the viewer of two other great generals from history who had accomplished this difficult feat: Charlemagne and Hannibal.
David etched the names of all 3 generals in the rock in the lower left.
Neoclassical in firmness of drawing.
Napoleon as Mars the Peacekeeper
Marble with gilded bronze staff and figure of Victory
Wellington Museum, London--Apsley House
Emperor Napoleon commissioned this statue in 1802 because he wanted to be immortalized by Canova--who was then the considered by many to be Europe's greatest artist.
He is represented in the guise of Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. This colossal nude figure depicts the conqueror as a victorious and peace-giving Mars.
The head is idealized.
The figure is based on statues of ancient rulers in the guise of nude classical deities.
By the time, the sculpture was completed in 1811, Napoleon was embarrased by its nudity.
Also his position had become less secure. The following year he entered the catastrophic Russian campaign.
The godlike image did not seem fit for public display.
The heroic concept no longer seemed completely relevant.
So Napoleon decided not to put the work on public display.
It was hidden away in the Louvre until it emerged in 1815.
After the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, the British government bought and presented the statue to the Duke as a trophy of victory--as well as a reminder of how quickly the powerful can fall.
It is still displayed in Wellington's home in London.
Pauline Borghese as Venus
The Emperor's sister was married into Italian nobility as part of their legitimation as the new pan-European dynasty.
Pauline herself requested that she be represented as Venus Victorious.
In his portrait, Canova obligingly imagined her as simultaneously displaying the dignified pose of a patrician Roman matron--and the careless nudity of a goddess for whom mortal opinion is nothing.
In public, it would have caused a scandal.
But its intended audience was limited to those whose sophistication in such matters could be assumed.
Only some members of the Borghese family and friends were allowed to see the work.
Their visits were arranged to take place at night in the dramatic illumination and deep shadow of torchlight.
Canova also favored this same theatrical device in displaying his work to prospective clients.
The reclining Pauline Bonaparte in the center of the room holds an apple in her hand evoking the Venus Victrix in the judgement of Paris, who was chosen to settle a dispute between Juno (power), Minerva (arts and science) and Venus (love). The same subject was painted on the ceiling by Domenico de Angelis (1779), framed by Giovan Battista Marchetti's tromp d'oeil architecture, and was inspired by a famous relief on the façade of the Villa Medici.
This marble statue of Pauline in a highly refined pose is considered a supreme example of the Neoclassical style. Canova executed this portrait without the customary drapery of a person of high rank, an exception at the time, thus transforming this historical figure into a goddes of antiquity in a pose of classical tranquillity and noble semplicity.
The wooden base, draped like a catafalque, once contained a mechanism that caused the sculpture to rotate, as in the case of other works by Canova. The roles of artwork and spectator were thus reversed, it was the sculpture that moved whilst the spectator stood still and observed the splendid statue from all angles. In the past, viewers admired the softly gleaming sculpture of Pauline by candlelight and its lustre was not only due to the fine quality of the marble but also to the waxed surface, which has been recently restored.
Neoclassicism in America
The first to introduce neoclassical architecture to America.
For Jefferson, architecture was joy in itself, the carrier of all the things he held in the highest regard—taste, cultivation, and reason, the noblest aspirations of civilization, both past and present.
Influenced by Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture, Robert Morris’s Select Architecture (1775) and Charles Louis Clérisseau’s Antiquités de la France (Monuments de Nîmes, 1778).
One of the most significant events of Jefferson’s French sojourn was his visit to Nîmes, where he saw for the first time an original Roman building—the Maison Carrée, a temple of the first century BCE.
Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, Virginia
Ex. Thomas Jefferson
Near Charlottesville, Virginia
Ex. Thomas Jefferson
The Rotunda, University of Virginia