The Oath of The Horatii by Jacques-Louis David

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Art can be educational and charming for the public. It plays a precarious role that cannot be undervalued. The Oath of the Horatii is a piece of art that very Fascinating. The art is a creative work of Jacques-Louis David in 1784. David uses the realistic style of art. The image originates from the period of the mighty Roman Empire. The art depicts two groups fighting. These are Alba and Rome. In the art, we can see women in grief signifying that they do not expect anything good to come from the war. What is interesting is that the women are untouched even as the two parties struggle for dominance. This act results from intermarriages between the two groups. David succeeds in enabling his audience to get a clear picture of how things were unfolding in this era.

The portrait, The Oath of the Horatii portrays an argument between two cities of ancient times. This painting apparently depicts three brothers that are willing to sacrifice themselves for the god of their town. This painting honestly evokes both feelings of sadness and also amazement from me. It’s amazing because these people are willing to sacrifice their lives for the god of their city but also sadness because these three men are most likely going to die. However I am also amazed by the painting itself, there are many colors in the painting that really make things pop out to you. For example the man in the very center has on this bright red attire and he really draws the focus to him. Which then makes me wonder more about him. Then it makes you look at the man holding out three swords. He is holding them out to his sons knowing that thy might not come back and he might not see them again. Then you look at the background of the painting and you see women and a child who are clearly very upset. It’s amazing that we can tell they are upset just by looking at them. That’s how amazing this painting is. It really shows the emotions of all these people. It helps us understand what they were thinking and what they might have been going through. This painting was really amazing and I am glad that I was given the opportunity to see it (Carrier, 2008).                                                                                                    

The Oath of the Horatii by David, as can be seen below, was stimulated by a Roman legend that dates back to pre-historic times. It depicts three individuals, brothers taking an oath in front of their father to protect Rome and put their duty to protect the city ahead of their selfish interests. It is a moving piece, one that is also clearly organized. It is dominated by a total of three arches at the background, arches that do an excellent job at ensuring all the viewer’s attention is drawn to the subjects in the foreground. The three men are in the first arch to the left, their dad holding up three swords in the middle and three women on the last arch. The male figures are as muscular as they should be. They create geometric forms that are also tense and tend to contrast superbly with the soft curves in the background. They are also different from the flowing poses of the ladies in the far right seated behind the father in the middle. David also made use of some clinical light that brings about a contrast with the drama that this scene portrays. This effect forces the viewer to approach the scene with what may be described as a mixture of rationality and passion (Stewart, 2001).

When I look at the picture, I see two groups fighting, and women watch in grief. This image shows the struggle for power and its associated implications for the females and the entire community. The women in the art appear sad as men battle against each other. This scenario depicts an ordinary society where women are mostly affected by war. Furthermore, the art clearly shows how the society views women. They are not allowed to help in time of problems.

When I look at the picture, I admire the creativity of David. The work is soothing and creates a calming effect when I look at it. David can balance a dark background with different colors for attires for various parties. The attires match with the background which indicates that he did quality work. The characters in the art are sad. Women are worried since they don’t know where their future lies. Men are sad since they are not confident about the outcome of the war. I feel sad when I look at this piece of work. I pity with the women as depicted by David.


This image speaks volumes about loyalty, patriotism and the love for one’s country. It was based on a legend where three brothers dedicated their lives to protect Rome regardless of what their spouses or relatives thought of the idea. According to the people of that time, it shows the ultimate level of patriotism and heroism in individuals. Additionally, it depicts what those left behind have to go through when people leave to go to war. Its objective was to inspire people to embrace their roles within the society. It was intended to push people to own up and assume their responsibility. It drives people to make that sacrifice for the greater good, something that David achieved in this artistic piece.


This painting was derived from a story by Titus-Livy. In this story, Rome was at a time of war with Alba. It was back in 669 B.C. the dispute between these two cities would only be settled in an unconventional manner where a group from each side would fight it out, and a winner would emerge. The groups would comprise of three individuals each. The two teams are made up of the three Horatii brothers, depicted in this painting, and three Curatii brothers as well. However, the interesting turn is that one of the sisters of the Curatii happens to be married to one of the Horatii brothers. Additionally, one of the Horatii sisters is set to marry one of the Curatii brothers. Regardless of these ties, the Horatii father pushes his sons to fight the Curatii even with the women not supporting the move.                                                                           

Oath of the Horatii is an oil painting made on canvas. It measures 3.3 * 4.25m. It was David’s first masterpiece that broke with the rococo style of that time, taking a neoclassicism approach. It makes use of life-sized figures that are separated by vast empty spaces on what looks like a stage-like area. The painting emphasizes on the geometry of the room. It also makes use of the slanting light that offers contrast along with emphasizing the characters in the painting. Each gender is represented well- men with straight lines and women with curves.

Historical Context                                                                                         

This painting tells a story that is derived from the classical world. It also tells a story of the moral behavior of that time, a message it puts across of the value of sacrifice and the importance of doing the right thing for the greater good. The painting presents gestures indicating oath-taking, something that was taken very seriously at that time. It embodies every aspect that people held dear during the 18th century. It also represents the values that people thought and felt were virtuous.                                                                               

David’s Oath of the Horatii was commissioned by Louis XVI. David proceeded to paint it while in Rome, and it was exhibited at the Louvre in 1785. The French monarchy ruled the country at that time. As such, they had a significant influence on what David did, along with what was presented to the people. The message that resonated at that time was that of loyalty to one’s country, patriotism, and strength. Consequently, David had to draw something that spoke about these three aspects and appealed to the rule of that time.


Viewing the art by David has been very enjoyable. He has succeeded in using the Realistic form of art. I feel that this piece of art is very educative. Apart from it informing us about past experiences in the war between Alba and Rome, it has succeeded in giving us the impacts of war on the society especially for women. The art uses a dark background which represents grief and uncertainty among the warring parties. The art originated many years ago. However, it is relevant to the modern world where different individuals are struggling for power through wars.

 (Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii)

Works Cited

Carrier, D. (2008). Was David a revolutionary before the revolution? : recent political readings of "The oath of the Horatii" and "The lictors returning to Brutus the bodies of his sons.". 108-118.

Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Stewart, A. (2001). David's 'Oath of the Horatii' and the Tyrannicides. 212-219.

August 01, 2023


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