The Oath of Horatii Jacques Louis David Buy Art Prints Now
from Amazon

* As an Amazon Associate, and partner with Google Adsense and Ezoic, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

The Oath of Horatii is one of the most memorable paintings with a significant meaning produced by the popular French painter Jacques Louis David.

In a bid to reconstruct history, Jacques painted a picture of the Horattii brothers making an oath to defend Rome with their lives. The father is seen giving the Horattii brothers their swords and the women behind the main figures appear to be having a very hard time. Throughout the painting, Jacques displays his astounding painting skills and his keen eye to even the finest details. The whole scene is well displayed with everything carefully made to come up with a relevant piece of art.

The story dates back to 7th century BC where the Romans selected the three Horatii brothers to face the Curiatii brothers. As Livy, the narrator who came up with the story puts it, it was an era where instead of a full-scale fighting that involved armies from both the two rival nations, in this case, the Romans and the Albans, they select representatives to combat one another in a bid to save their respective nations.

As the legend goes, the Horattii senior who is the father to the three bothers goes ahead to invite the brothers in his home. With the painting as the living proof, he asks them to take an oath before they are to go and fight the Curiatii brothers to death. In the painting, you can see the father lifting up the swords and the three sons saluting with their arms stretched towards the swords. The Oath of Horatii was just an occasion that marked the beginning of the impending combat that would see the two nations Alba and Rome settle an existing dispute.

According to Livy, the two families were bonded by a very strong marriage relationship. This means the selection of the fighters was not random. In Livy’s book, the woman seated on the right of the painting weeping is to be married to the Curiatii brothers. Her name is Camilla and the woman sitting next to Camilla is a daughter to the Curiatii engaged to one of the Horatii brothers.

These events that seem to be unfolding stroke by stroke in the painting are seen as some of the most memorable moments of the battle. The oath of Horatii painting is a Masterpiece that no one can deny. It unfolds the story step by step without skipping even a single piece of information. With the painting, Jacques is able to tell a story like it was never told before and he does it keenly and flawlessly through this commendable piece of art.

With a single peek at the art you won’t fail to notice two distinct moods across the painting. The simple part that Jacques is able to showcase them successfully is truly remarkable. The Horatii brothers and their father seem to be having a hands-on mood. A mood demonstrating that they are more than prepared to face their enemies the Curiatii brothers. They merrily salute their father standing in a reassuring position to let the father know that they mean business. This is a very different mood to that going on behind the scenes. The women seem to be in a sombre mood and like the painting portrays they seem unsettled with the outcome of the war. Camilla seems to be out of control trying to get hold of herself. She knows that she will either end up losing her Horattii brothers or even worse losing her Curiatii lover. She can’t bear the feeling and she’s trying hard enough to get it together. The other woman is undergoing similar ordeal as that of Camilla. She clearly knows that she might just end up losing her Curiatii brothers or even worse her Horatii husband. Jacques makes sure that these two moods are clearly depicted in his painting. He also portrays the mood so well and vibrantly in an attempt to make sure that the audience doesn’t misinterpret or miss any single detail.

Livy tells the story gradually with the painting as his reference. In his book, he goes on saying that the outcome was not a pleasant one. The women underwent a difficult time after the battle and the two houses suffered a great loss. The Curiatii brothers were all killed in the combat. He further states that they first killed two of the Horatii brothers. The other Horatii ran making them scatter as they looked for him, he then used the chance to kill each one of them. From the painting, the fear of the two women finally came to be and Camilla’s lover was killed in the process as well the other woman’s brothers. In her bitter state, she started accusing the brother who survived the combat for killing her fiancé. He didn't take it lightly and ended up taking Camilla’s life with claims that she was putting her feelings before her nation.

The oath of Horatii painting was not just any other form of painting, it was a revolution that saw the switching of one painting style to the other. This painting marked the introduction of the new neoclassical art that seems to be more gentle and much clear. The painting saw the transformation of the Rococo art into a much finer painting style that ended up being used by most of Jacques Louis David’s contemporary artists. This is exactly what made him become an inspiration and a figure of the new art painting style. Jacques Louis David’s ability to bring out such kind of creativity is profound. Through the oath of Horatii, he is able to show how informed he is about the new form of art. It is a painting that marked the initial production of fine paintings full of realism.

Jacques used the technique of oil on canvass and went ahead to introduce the neoclassical painting style. The neoclassical painting style featured the use of painting brushes with intensive skills to produce a finer piece of art that produced a soft surface with no sign of any brush strokes. The resultant painting is amazing and the clarity is like no other. It also brings forth a better shaping of the features like the clothing as well as the general character of the subjects. The neoclassical style made use of line and colour to emphasize the focal point of the painting. It also stressed the use of skills and in-depth creativity so as to come up with a realistic painting that could be felt by the audience.

The oath of Horatii was a royal commission. David had just emerged victorious in the Prix de Rome by one of his finest paintings. The King himself was astonished by his work that he invited him to sojourn at the Louvre. In these ancient times, this was an honour and so many artists desired to have such a rare opportunity. It was while still staying at the Louvre that Jacques Louis David was approached by King Louis XVI assistant known as Charles who commissioned David to develop the painting. As much as David ended up veering from the main theme, this painting ended up being one of the most amazing paintings that saw him become a highly recognized painter. The painting was not finished in Paris where David had started painting it but in Rome. It was used to showcase the bravery and loyalty for once country. With the brothers agreeing to give their lives for their country, the painting passed a very strong message to the people.

If you take a gaze at the brothers, the women crying and the children being held you will be able to clearly see the intensity of details from one end of the painting to another. The brothers have been well drawn with all the finer details showing. Starting from the surface on which they stand, the tiles have been well created with distinct colours making them look incredible. Their clothes have been designed to show from afar. The background is well depicted and Camilla as well as Sabina though part of the background can clearly be seen. The shaping of every individual person in the painting is startling. Jacques Louis David knew exactly how to achieve a result like no other. He even went ahead to add some other subjects in the painting to make it even more captivating and detailed. The end result is a finer and detailed painting. The oath of Horatii painting is currently located in Musa de Louvre in Paris the same place its creation began.

It is interesting to contrast the work of this artist with that of Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya, whose work was far more emotional and dark in mood. Goya produced the likes of Second of May, Third of May and the Clothed Maja in a more substantial career than David's though both remain similarly respected by art historians.

The Oath of Horatii in Detail Jacques Louis David