Jacques Louis David - Oath of the HoratiiOil on canvas, 1794, 330 x 425 cm, Musée du Louvre in Paris

Swear it!


Description and interpretation of the famous painting'The Vow of the Horatii' by Jacques Louis David!

Jacques Louis David - The Oath of the Horatii

Irony of fate! This painting was commissioned by Louis XVI and could not be more closely associated with the French Revolution. However, the story to which David alludes here goes back to Livius, who lived from 59 BC to 17 AD.

Three fighters can be seen stretching out their hands to swear. They have given their swords to the man in a shining red robe. He raises them up in awe. On the right in the picture are mourning women. You can see an episode from the past. The three fighters are Horatians and brothers at the same time, the man on the opposite is her father. In this scene they assure their loyalty to the Roman Republic. Even the women, who are clearly the opposite in their composition, cannot deter them from their patriotic plans. The Women here don't care about belonging, they act out of love and want peace. Sabina can be seen on the right, she is a curator and married to a horatier, while Camilla, beside her, is a horatier herself and is engaged to a curator. She was later to be killed by her own brother, as she would weep for the death of her beloved.

This painting is regarded as the climax of classicism. The conscious and exaggerated glorification of antiquity is the main theme of this epoch. Helmets, swords and clothes are based on Roman models. The clear composition of three round arches, which also divide the three groups of people, is also typical of Classicism. The contours and colours clearly differ from each other. No great emphasis was placed on the play of light and shadow. Only the strong cast shadow reinforces the drastic impression of the scene and points to the coming disaster. Also symbolically, the shadow of men already lays on a woman with her child.

Even though David will have hardly hidden an appeal to revolt at the time of its creation, the French Revolution began only 5 years after this painting. Today, a connection between image and history is often interpreted into it.

© the artinspector / alexandra tuschka