Arts & Culture


Oath of the Horatii

Jacques-Louis David1786

The Toledo Museum of Art
The Toledo Museum of Art


  • Title: Oath of the Horatii
  • Creator: Jacques-Louis David
  • Date Created: 1786
  • Location Created: Europe
  • Physical Dimensions: w1667 x h1302 cm (Complete)
  • Catalogue entry: In 1784 Louis XVI (ruled 1774-1792) commissioned from Jacques-Louis David a life-size depiction of the ancient Roman story of the Horatii family pledging to fight the Curiatii family. That painting, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, is one of the most famous images in the history of French art. Toledo's canvas is a reduced replica of the Louvre painting, ordered from David by the comte de Vaudreuil, a high-ranking courtier. It is closely similar to the original, except that it includes a distaff near the feet of the women. David's pupil Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824) is believed to have assisted in making this version. In a dynamic, interlinked pose, the Roman Horatii brothers swear an oath before their father to fight to the death against the Curiatii of Alba Longa, their tense muscles and angular rhythms dividing them from the fluid contours of the Horatii women, slumped in grief and acceptance. Since battle between Rome and Alba Longa would be frowned upon by the gods, to decide the dispute, the Horatii brothers would fight the Curiatii brothers as representatives of their cities. The situation was complicated by the ties between the two families—not only were they cousins, but they had also intermarried. Inspired by the classical art he had studied in Italy, David composed the scene as a shallow frieze, the three sculpture-like groups of figures placed in front of three arches. In late-eighteenth-century France, the appreciation of ancient literature and art became associated with a new taste for personal and national morality in the face of the growing economic and political chaos leading up to the French Revolution of 1789. David's powerful image exhorted restrained emotion, order, and patriotic duty, and defined the French Neoclassical style that would become official taste Napoleon's rule (see 1996.29).
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey
  • External Link:
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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