Jacques-Louis David, the essence of neoclassicism

If there is a painter who represents the essence of French neoclassicism like no other, it is Jacques-Louis David.. His great source of inspiration was Greco-Roman Antiquity and he left countless sublime works. Let’s learn more about the life and work of this artist.

Who was Jacques-Louis David

He was born in Paris in 1748, into a wealthy family. As a child he lost his father and his mother would leave him in charge of two uncles, who were architects. But despite this, he never wanted to follow in his footsteps. He was not a good student and soon showed that he had a gift: painting.

After overcoming resistance from his family, entered the workshop of François Boucher, to later attend the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. But his goal was to get a scholarship to the French Academy in Rome, he got it on the fifth try and after going on a hunger strike to protest the rejections.

It was in Italy where he would soak up the influences that would mark his style: the great masterpieces and ruins of the ancient Roman Empire. David would be captivated by the work of Rafael and, especially, by the majesty of the city of Pompeii.

Years later, Jacques-Louis David returned to France, where he continued to prosper. The artist would support revolutionary ideas and would work on their propaganda. After that time he was imprisoned, but resurfaced with the arrival of Napoleon, who made him an official painter. The return of the Bourbons meant his exile in Brussels, where he would die in 1825.

Jacques-Louis David and his most famous works

There are almost countless works by this precocious genius that no one could imitate, because his details and perfection were unmatched. Some of them marked his career in a prestigious way. We are going to highlight only four of the great works of Jacques-Louis David.

The Oath of the Horatii

This was one of the first works he did., in addition to being one of those that contributed to his takeoff as an artist. In fact, it led him to become the most important painter of the moment in the world.

The painting is an allegory of loyalty to the State above any other issue. Three brothers take an oath while several women who cry around them show desolation and sadness in the face of battle and death.

death of Socrates

this box reflects the acceptance of death by the philosopher. In fact, while some of the characters around him cry or cover their faces in sadness, Socrates seems almost indifferent. It must be remembered that the philosopher was sentenced to die drinking hemlock for allegedly corrupting the young Athenians.

The exceptional placement of the figures that star in the painting and the light effects make the scene totally realistic.


“If the work is poor, the taste of the public soon does it justice. And the author, reaping neither glory nor fortune, will learn by hard experience how to correct his mistakes.”

-Jacques-Louis David-

Napoleon crossing the Alps

As we have noted, Jacques-Louis David was one of Napoleon’s court artists. The genius painted two works of the emperor that became famous: Napoleon crossing the Alps Y Napoleon’s Coronation.

This painting shows the power and courage of Napoléon on his horse, always ready to fight the toughest battles. On the ground there is an inscription that refers to Charlemagne and implies that at that time Napoleon was the hero of France.

Napoleon’s Coronation

In this work are portrayed the most illustrious characters of the time, like the pope or the bishop of Paris. A work that shows a clear contrast between the attitudes of the general public and the coldness of the ecclesiastics. It was considered the best work of art of fusion between baroque and modernism.

As you see, Jacques-Louis David set a precedent with his works and his way of seeing art. He is certainly a character worth keeping track of on some of our travels. Do you dare to do it?

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