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Rousseau, the Individual, the State, and David’s The Oath of the Horatii

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Rousseau, the Individual, the State, and David’s The Oath of the Horatii

Rousseau’s view on the relationship between the individual and the state and David’s painting ‘The Oath of the Horatii’ are two different genres with the same views, having French Revolution as the connecting factor. David’s painting is not done for art sake but rather an art for the people sake. His painting does not include only aesthetic purposes but includes with ulterior motives. David has a preconceive notion in his mind and has decided to give a pictorial representation of the preconceived notion and exploits all his techniques to ensure what is in his mind. It is because of Rousseau’s impact of philosophy that David was able to use his medium of painting to achieve his purpose. In ‘The Oath of Horatii’, Rousseau’s impact on David is expressed very well in the David’s neoclassical style which is characterized by clarity of line, logical and balanced composition, restrained facial expression, bold effects of light and a minimum of distracting detail. It is very apt for David’s purposes since the style enhances and highlights David’s purposes in conveying his political messages.

The Horatii were chosen as champions of ancient Rome (Audio-Visual
Notes 2001) and the legitimacy of being chosen as champions suggests the power of the state. According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a person or institution has authority if they are able to command others to do things. That authority is legitimate only if the person, or institution, possesses the right to command others. To be legitimate, the authority the state has over the people must come from the people themselves, and not from a single entity such as the king. Power that comes from such sources is usually referred to as naked power. In such a scenario, we cannot totally agree that the Horatii were comfortable with the title as champions. They might be indulged to obey the state because they ought to, or because they are afraid of the consequences.
In contrast, they might be honoured to be chosen as champions of Rome and this title might influence them into offering their lives on behalf of the country.

On the viewer’s left, a third of the vertical space is dedicated to three men, Horatii, who are sons to the man, Horatius. The lights flood across the scene onto the viewer’s right side, illuminating the main characters and presenting th...

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...r heads are facing down with eyes closed with their backs slouching.
These choices of colours, postures and gestures suggest that David wants to create the solemn ambience within the female figures and the contradiction of their particular will against the general will of the state. In Rousseau’s view, particular will is concerned with an individual’s advantage. The ladies may be convinced by their three brothers and their father to think that their particular will is the product of appetite while general will is the product of reason. Since a person acting on his appetite is slavish and bad, while a person acting on reason is noble and good, they should therefore obey the general will and allow their brothers to fight; even to the extent of having duels with their own family members.

With the cross referencing between Rousseau’s views and David’s painting “The Oath of the Horatii” that has been presented, we can conclude that it is because of Rousseau’s impact of philosophy that
David was able to use his medium of painting to achieve his purpose and this is evident through the pictorial representation in conveying particular will and the general will of “The Oath of the Horatii”.
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