Notable Reads: “The Artist and the Work of Art” by Joshua C. Taylor

Oath of the Horatii

A painter whose political outlook found subtle expression in his subject matter and style, Jacques Louis David (b. 1748) was several times a radical, one who may have found himself the artistic representative at d’Holbach’s table: “David seemed unwilling or incapable of escaping in his art to an ideal world of perfect order without carrying the world of weight and substance with him. As a result, he tried to impose on the forms of the material world itself the rational clarity and order that some might reserve for a utopian dream” (Taylor, 145).

Likewise, a friend of Revolutionaries; a genius that could add drama to the ailing Marat’s bath-side scribbling of last words:

The Death of Marat
“Aroused to bring the name of Marat forcefully to the public, David decided to show him under the circumstances in which he had seen him the day before his murder – in his bath, where he was writing out his thoughts for the good of the people” (Taylor, 146).

David’s known political tendency as a member of the revolutionary Committee on Public Education highlights the sort of biographical detail that Taylor explains “may contribute to a deeper and more sympathetic response to any one of his paintings” (148). Unless, of course, you’re the descendent (political or otherwise) of a King, Corday or Girondins…

David comes across as a painter who placed moral integrity and political principle ahead of his artistic vision. His own oath was to the revolutionary court, subordinating – or rather, elevating – his art to the service of popular education.

Napoleon Crossing the St. Bernard Pass (


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