The “Age of Enlightenment” saw a revival of classical thought through the exploration of Greek simplicity, order, and harmony, and with the influential role of education. Bolstered by exponential advances in scientific discovery, the six principles of classicism likewise saw a revival in seventeenth and eighteenth century neoclassical art. Perhaps no other artist better epitomizes the neoclassical movement than French revolutionary Jacques-Louis David. David “eschewed the constraints of the Académie” (Mahabir) in pursuit of his ideals, and “appropriated [those] of ancient Greece and Rome for [his] own era” (Sporre 424).
Perhaps his most important painting, The Oath of the Horatii was created in accordance with classical principles. Forgoing rococo decadence, “David organizes the canvas with a geometric precision that recalls the innovation of the ancient Greeks and of the Italian Renaissance that harked back to the rationalism of antiquity” (“David's Oath of the Horatii”).
Elements in the piece are neatly arranged and ordered. The space is divided into three distinct parts. Strong geometrical shapes, rational space, a mainly subdued palette, and the lack of discernible brush strokes display order. The work is organized, with its austere simplicity and direct message presented in a methodical composition.
With sculptural modeling and strong poses, the idealized figures are “solid, active, and full of presence” (Mahabir). The men, in particular, are youthful, virile, and athletic. The light “heightens the muscularity of the male figures as it rakes across the surface of their bodies” and “creates a strong sense of physicality” (“David's Oath of the Horatii”). The men appear composed, confident, and strong, both in body and mind, by their well-grounded stances and definitive gestures.
Anatomical accuracy and rational occupation of space lends realism to the work. David's human forms “appear distinct, noble and true to life,” and they “reveal his ability to render sub-dermal forms with the understanding of the Italians past” (Mahabir). The figures all occupy three-dimensional space, and pose believably. They occupy the foreground realistically, yet...