Jean-Louis David and Jean-Jacques Rousseau Essay

Jean-Louis David and Jean-Jacques Rousseau Essay

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Jean-Louis David + Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Question : In what ways and to what extent is an understanding of historical context important in approaching the works of (a) David and (b) Rousseau?

"The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons", is a painting by the French artist Jean-Louis David in 1789. Having led the fight which overthrew the monarchy and established the Roman Republic. Brutus tragically saw his sons participate in a plot to restore the monarchy. As a judge, he was called upon to render the verdict, and without hesitation condemned his two sons to death.

The full title of this work is "Brutus Returning Home after having Sentenced his Sons for Plotting a Tarquinian Restoration and Conspiring against Roman Freedom; the Lictors brint there Bodies to be Buried."

In 1789, for Jean-Louis David to bring up such a subject was majorly controversial and reveals how deeply committed the artist was to the new ideas and enlightement principals. Indeed, had the revolution not occured, this picture could never have been exhibited publicly. After the fall of the bastille, David's pictures were seen as a republican manifesto, and greatly raised David's reputation

In order to fully understand David's artwork, it is important to posess a certain amount of historical knowledge on the various events that took place during the artists career, mainly the French Revolution. Behind each of his paintings is a story of historical importance. However, it is also very likely that David's paintings were often misinterpreted simply due to the fact that someone didn't fully grasp the significance of the artwork.

Like "The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons", as recorded by the Roman historian Livy, David's paintings covered many different historical era's. "The Death of Marat", 1793, is more simplistic and intense. David was in active sympathy with the Revolution, his majestic historical paintings, ("The Oath of Horatii", "Death of Socrates", and "Brutus's sons") were hailed as artistic demands for political action. He orchestrated the great festival of the people on 14 July 1790, and designed uniforms, banners, triumphal arches, and inspirational props for the Jacobin club's propaganda. David was president of the Jacobin club on the day that his good friend and fellow Jacobin, Jean-Paul Marat was killed by a young Royalist who...


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...y as Jean-Louis David and his paintings. Both these influential people helped to ignite a passion amongst the French general public and change French politics. Looking at Rousseau's idea for government seems unacceptable or impossible to us, however, his idea, which was prominent in the revolution, that sovereignty resides with the people, that "man is born free". Both Rousseau and democracy preserve the idea that government is legitimate only if it emerges from us.

Jean-Louis David's form of neoclassical paintings which are difficult to seperate from their political and social context, were very different from the traditional paintings of the era. When looking at David's artwork one must acknowledge how artistic concerns were bound up with broader social issues. Many of his paintings bear strong symbolic political references.

In order to read, think like Rousseau or understand the true meaning behind David's artwork one must possess, from a historical context, knowledge on the French Revolution, how different French society and culture was and information regarding each artists background, for example, who they were, and what they meant to the general public of that time.

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