Oath of the Horatii, is a large painting by the French artist Jacques-Louis David painted in 1784 and now on display in the Louvre in Paris. The painting immediately became a huge success with critics and the public, and remains one of the best known paintings in the Neoclassical style.
It depicts a scene from a Roman legend about a seventh-century BC dispute between two warring cities, Rome and Alba Longa, and stresses the importance of patriotism and masculine self-sacrifice for one’s country.
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The principal sources for the story behind David’s Oath are the first book of Livy (sections 24–26) which was elaborated by Dionysius in book 3 of his Roman Antiquities. However, the moment depicted in David’s painting is his own invention. The painting led to the popularization of the Roman salute.
It grew to be considered a paragon of neoclassical art. The painting increased David’s fame, allowing him to take on his own students.
When the royalty, churchmen, and aristocrats went to view the painting, they eulogised it; the Pope himself expressed his desire to view The Oath of the Horatii. The painting was exhibited in the Salon of 1785, but it was delivered late.
David’s enemies at the Academy took advantage of the delay to exhibit the painting in a poor locale in the gallery. The public’s dissatisfaction with the painting’s poor viewing conditions obliged the gallery to move it to a more prominent location. David kept The Oath of the Horatii on exhibit for longer than expected to permit reporters to write about all of the paintings exhibited, not just his.