The Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of His Sons

Jacques-Louis David1787

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum

"Through his Brutus as through his Horatii, [Jacques-Louis] David talks to the people more directly and more clearly than all the inflammatory writers whom the regime has confiscated and burned," wrote a contemporary about Jacques-Louis David's paintings. David made this study in preparation for the well-known painting completed in 1789, the year of the French Revolution. Although it created a republican political sensation at the Salon, he had almost certainly not intended that reaction. He had chosen the subject from Roman history to satisfy a commission from King Louis XVI.

After Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic, drove out the kings, he followed Roman code and condemned his own sons to death because they had supported the monarchy. Lictors, or Roman officers, bring in his sons' bodies for burial, while Brutus sits impassively in the shadow of the goddess Roma. In contrast, his brightly lit wife and daughters succumb to grief at the sight of the corpses. David aimed for absolute historical correctness in figures, furniture, and costume; this style and specifically this picture decisively influenced the Revolution's fashions, furniture, and hairstyles.

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  • Title: The Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of His Sons
  • Creator: Jacques-Louis David
  • Date: 1787
  • Physical Dimensions: 32.7 x 42.1 cm (12 7/8 x 16 9/16 in.)
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Pen and black ink and gray wash
  • Source Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • Signature: At bottom left on base of Brutus' chair, signed and dated "L. David faciebat 1787" in gray ink.
  • Object Type: Drawing
  • Object Status: Permanent Collection
  • Number: 84.GA.8
  • Display Location: Not currently on view
  • Department: Drawings
  • Culture: French
  • Classification: Drawings