The Oath of the Horatii
Painted by Jacques-Louis David in 1784. The original hangs in the Louvre, Paris.
The painting draws its inspiration from an account by Titus-Livy in his History of Early Rome. It is 669 BC and Rome
is at war with Alba. Tullus, King of Rome, and Metius, King of Alba, agree that victory will be decided by battle between two groups of three
champions, one from each city. Rome is represented by the three brothers of the Horatii family while Alba chooses three brothers of the family
Curiatii. On the left we see the brothers Horatii swearing an oath to their father that bind the will of many into one. On the right are the
women of the family, who despair. One is Sabina, daughter of the Curiatii and married to a Horatii. Another is Camilla, daughter of the Horatii
who is betrothed to a son of the Curiatii.
Of the battle between Horatii and Curiatii, only one survived, a Horatii. Rome was declared victor and Metius and Alba vassal to Rome. Niccolo
Machiavelli, in his discourse on Titus-Livy's history writes that ``....when that Horatius returned as conqueror to Rome, meeting his sister who
was married to one of the three dead Curatii, and who was weeping over the death of her husband, he killed her. Whence that Horatius, because of
this crime, was placed on trial and after much deliberation was freed, more because of the prayers of his father than because of his own merits.''
The Death of Socrates
Painted by Jacques Louis-David in 1787. The original hangs in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
As the title suggests, it depicts the death of Socrates. In 399 BC, Socrates was accused of impiety and corrupting Athenian youth
(whether in body or mind or both is ambiguous to this day) and sentenced to death. As was the custom, death was delivered by a draught of
The inspiration for the painting is from the dialogue of Phaedo, which takes as its setting the prison on the day of execution. According to
the Phaedo, Socrates and his students discussed the immortality of the soul through the day, until sunset and the hemlock drunk.
Present were Phaedo, for whom the dialogue is named, Crito, Cebes, Simmias, and Apollodorus. Plato, however, was not
present, but David includes him, seated at the foot of the bed, facing away. The wife of Socrates is shown departing up the steps to the left.
Socrates was stoic until the end, not so his disciples.
The Tennis Court Oath
Composed by Jacques Louis-David. The original hangs in the palace of Versailles.
The picture celebrates the first step of the French revolution.
Faced with a financial crisis, the French Government of the day called a
meeting of the Estates General (the parliamentary body)in May 1789. The Estates General was divided into the First
(clergy), Second (nobility), and Third (commoners) Estates and met at
Versailles. During the following month, the First and Second Estate
clashed with the Third Estate over the principle of one man -one vote.
On June 17, the Third Estate decided to break from the Estates
General and draw up their own constitution. They also dubbed
themselves the ``National Assembly''. Finding themselves locked out of
their regular meeting
place, they gathered in a nearby tennis court and vowed that they
would continue to meet until they had established a new constitution
David decided that he would paint the scene in all its
glory......meaning detailed pictures of each member of the third
estate. He never completed it and all that remains are preliminary
sketches and water colors.
There were two reasons for David not completing it. The first was the
sheer size of the task he had set himself. The second was politics.
As the revolution progressed certain members of the 3rd estate fell
out of favor and David had to erase them from his picture (as you can
see Stalin was not the first in this respect!).
Vedute Di Roma Moderna
Painted by Giovanni Paolo Panini in 1759. The original hangs in the Louvre, Paris.
Pannini's paintings catered to the tourists visiting Rome. Primarily wealthy French travelers who wanted to capture and store the views of Rome
that so enthralled them. To return with a Pannini was to signal ones worldliness and sophistication.
Painted by Hans Holbein (the younger) in 1533, the original hangs in the National Gallery, London.
Its full title is : 'Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve ('The Ambassadors')'. On the left Jean de Dinteville, aged 29, French ambassador to
England in 1533. The other, a friend, Georges de Selve, aged 25, Bishop of Lavaur, who acted on several occasions as ambassador to the Emperor,
the Venetian Republic and the Holy See. At the time of this picture it is believed that de Selve was bearing a secret message from the French
king to de Dinteville.
Displayed between them are the tools, instruments and ideas that a man of the world
at that time was supposed to be familiar with. Mathematics was considered an important part of the repertoire as can be seen by the book
propped open on the table. Its title is Eyn Newe unnd wohlgegründte underweysung aller Kaufmannss Rechnung ('A new and reliable instruction
book of calculation for merchants'), published in 1527. It was the first arithmetic textbook, written in German, by Peter Apian, a mathematician
and astronomer at the University of Ingolstadt in Germany.
The strange shape in the foreground is a distorted skull, a symbol of mortality. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba
Painted by Claude Lorrain in 1648. The original hangs in the National Gallery, London.
Lorrain was one of the masters of fictional landscape paintings. This piece depicts the
embarkation of the Queen of Sheba upon her journey to meet King Solomon.
The Old Testament (I Kings 10: 1-13) recounts that the Queen traveled to Jerusalem to test Solomon with hard questions. At the end of the
examination, she exclaims ``....I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: thy
wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard''. The Old Testament reports that she gave Solomon ``a hundred and twenty talents of gold,
and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to king
Solomon''. Would that we were all so rewarded for our scholarly efforts.
Solomon, in return, the Testament tells, ``....gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked.....'', before she departed.
Painted by Michelangelo MERISI also known as CARAVAGGIO in 1594. The original hangs in the Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth.
Called the second Michelangelo. His career began with his arrival in Rome at the age of 21. The city was a magnet to merchants,
mendicants, artists, princes both secular and ecclesiastical, prostitutes, hustlers and the bastard sons of Popes. From this turbulent
concoction Caravaggio drew his inspiration. Basing, for example, his `Death of the Virgin' upon the body of a dead prostitute dragged from the
Tiber. Sixteen years after his arrival, he was to decamp after murdering a man over a wager.
This particular piece shows a boy studying his cards while another fingers a concealed card ready to fleece the first. Over the
mark's shoulder, an accomplice signals what the mark conceals. The piece inspired a host of imitators and variants most notably by de la Tour
(The Cheat) and de Boulougne (The Cheats).