The Oath of the Horatii (1786) by Jacques-Louis DavidThe Toledo Museum of Art
A solemn and heroic scene. The three Horatii brothers swear to their father to fight till death for Rome, against the rivals the Curiatii. This last battle will decide the outcome of the bloody conflict between their homeland and the city of Albalonga.
In profile as ancient bas-reliefs, the figures are set in two groups belonging to two separate worlds.
On the left we see the brothers’ martial move.
They embody a male and sculpted universe, full of patriotic fervor.
On the right are the sorrowful women. Their sorrow is well-founded: a complicated bond of love and kinship tie them both to the Horatii and Curiatii. No matter how it will end, they’re destined to suffer. They stoically resign themselves to this and find solace in one another.
The psychological contrast between the two groups is highlighted by the softer shapes and the sinuous position of the feminine bodies, compared to the stiff verticals of the masculine bodies. The Horatii’s mother protectively embraces her grandchildren...
...but the eldest wiggles out to look: for the good of the native land, he’s ready to accept the family tragedy. A sign full of neoclassical spirit, in its vision of art and history as examples to spread the civic and moral virtues of the time.
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