Jacques Louis David's "Oath of the Horatii" is one of the most important paintings in the history of France.
Commissioned by the Administrator of Royal residences in 1784, it was exhibited in 1785 at the Salon. The picture made David's career.
The story behind the painting comes from a story from first told by Livy. It takes place in the pre-Republic period during the wars between Rome and Alba, in 669 B.C. It has been decided that the feud between the 2 cities be resolved by a duel between 2 groups of 3 champions each. The 2 groups are the three Horatii brothers and the three Curiatii brothers. And here is where the theme of the painting comes in - which takes precedence -love of family or love of country. One of the Curiatii sisters is married to a Horatii brother and one of the Horatii sisters is engaged to a Curiatii brother. The father of the Horatii brothers tells his sons they must fight the Curiatii despite the laments of the women.
Recent archeaological discoveries at Pompeii and Heculaneum had sparked great interest in Europe of stories of what was called "The Heroic Age" of Rome so the story was familiar to most of the French people. The picture created a sensation and though not revolutionary in intent, its Neoclasical style soon became the semivoice of the revolution. David created a program for arousing patriotic zeal. After this painting, art became much more political.
The painting shows three groups, the father, the brothers, and the sisters all against the backdrop of a rather massive setting. Each side group reacts to the father in the middle, one with enthusiasm, one with sorrow.
For a discussion of Neo Classical art go to http://www.artcyclopedia.com/history/neoclassicism.html Socrates by David