Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) was a painter-ideologist of the Neoclassical art of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic empire. He rebelled against the Rococo as an "artificial taste" and exalted Classical art, as in his own words, " the imitation of nature in her most beautiful and perfect from."

He praised Greek art with great enthusiasm although he knew nothing about it first hand:

"I want to work in a pure Greek style. I feel my eyes on ancient statues; I even have the intention of imitating some of them."

He believed that "the arts.... must contribute forcefully to the education of the public." He was well prepared both as an artist and as a politician when the French Revolution offered him the opportunity to create a public art -- an art of propaganda.

A political gadfly David played many roles in the French Revolution: he was a Jacobian friend of the radical Maximillien Robespierre, a member of the National Convention that voted for the death of King Louis XVI ( 1774–92, husband of Marie Antoinette and grandson of Louis XV), and the quasi-dictator of the Committee on Public Education. David joined scholars and artists in persuading the revolutionary government to abolish feudal rights and take over church property. His position of power made him the artistic dictator dominating the style taught in the French academies and his own manner of painting was the official model for many years.

David's Death of Horatio although painted before the French Revolution in 1784, reflects his politically didactic purpose. He agreed with the Enlightenment belief that subject matter should have a moral and should be presented so that the "marks of heroism and civic virtue offered the eyes of the people will electrify its soul, and plant the seeds of glory and devotion to the fatherland."

David's later paintings, like The Death of Marat were made to serve the ends of a carefully controlled dramatic realism, investing an event from David's own time with a strong psychic impact.

In 1794 France settled its disputes and David was sent to jail because of his art and politics.

Sources

Lometa. "Artists and Art in the Classroom" Tucson, Arizona.
1994. (Lecture presented at St Joseph's Catholic School.)

Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson , Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
1991.

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