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November 06, 2019

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

David Brutus.jpg


Lictors Returning To Brutus The Bodies Of His Sons
Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David is one of my personal top three artists of all time. He is most known for nurturing NeoClassicism into a major power in the art world, and using it to propagandize for both Robespierre and Napoleon. And because he was really good at it, he would die in exile after Napoleon’s fall.

“Oath of the Horatii” and “The Death of Marat” are considered two of David’s greatest pieces, but I like this one the most. The full title is: “J Brutus, First Consul, returned to his house after having condemned his two sons who had allied themselves with the Tarquins and conspired against Roman liberty the lictors return their bodies so that they may be given burial.”

The painting is an example of NeoClassicism, a theatrical style, designed to be very easy to read and understand. The settings are simple, the lighting is direct, the colors are bright, everything looks carefully blocked, and the action is very melodramatic. As the style’s name suggests, its imagery and themes derive from Classical art and its ideals. It is classicism for a New Age. Greece and Rome (especially Rome) was the Golden Age of Western civilization. To copy them was to elevate the present culture to heights it hadn’t seen in centuries.

David divides the painting in two. On the right we see a mother and her two daughters, a female servant sits to the far edge. The females are lit by a very bright spotlight coming through the ceiling. On the table sits a basket of sewing materials. The women were engaged in some domestic activity when horror strikes. One girl faints while the other shields her eyes. The mother screams and reaches for her lost sons. The servant just collapses in her chair and covers her face. They all react realistically and variously to the bodies of their executed sons and brothers being brought back to the house. The women’s clothes are bright a white, gold and red that gleam in the light making them even more noticeable.

David is obsessed with accuracy and detail. He gives us a realistic Roman house with a colonnade surrounding the atrium. However, this background would have been too distracting, so he hangs a sheet up to act as a backdrop for the action. It is a light gray to provide contrast to the women in front. The gray is also a nice neutral tone that allows the warm tones of the flesh and dresses to really shine.

On the left is darkness. A dimmer light shines through the door onto the stretchers that carry the corpses. We don’t see them completely, however. Just enough to get the idea. Below the legs of the one son sits Lucius Junius Brutus in total darkness. A blue shroud frames his head and his facial expression is hidden in shadow. His body language speaks for him. His left hand grasps the execution decree. His legs are crossed at the ankles and his toes are tightly clenched. An instant before, his head was resting on his right arm. When the women screamed, his head suddenly jerked up but his body remained frozen. We are able to see his raw honest emotions and his inner conflict that made him choose between his family and his country. His family lost.

Brutus sits at the feet of a statue of Roma Victoria. You can see an image of the She-wolf and the Twins next to his knees. She looms over Brutus and blocks any light from reaching him. She dominates him and it seems that he was appealing to the goddess for assurance that he did the right thing. Brutus looks out at us. His brow is creased, his mouth is tight, and his stare is arresting. Brutus became a hero in Rome; he sacrificed his own children to the cause of liberty.

“Brutus” is a masterclass of art. I wish I had more time. The painting is huge, over 10 feet by 13 feet, and the message is just as large. When this work was unveiled, the Tennis Court Oath and the storming of the Bastille were already history. The Revolution was underway. In “Brutus”, David provides an example of true sacrifice for liberty and challenges his contemporaries. The great men of the past weren’t afraid to do their duty, no matter the cost. Is France willing to do the same?

***

A lot of sites like to lighten up this painting so you can see Brutus better. The original is actually dark.


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posted by CBD at 09:30 AM

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