Exercise: David & Neo-Classicism

Jacques Louis David was the most influential painter of the Neo-Classical style in France in the late 18th century.  His style of painting was austere as well as being ethical and captured the moral climate of the era of revolution and change.



David set out to record the event that took place in the first few days of the French Revolution when the National Assembly as the group called themselves took a solemn oath never to disband until the constitution was established.  The oath was an act of revolution and was asserting that political authority derived from the people and their representatives and not from the monarch.

The painting he did appears to be a copy of the etching but it was never completed as these were turbulent times in France.

  • Is the man at the centre of the painting trying to get everyone’s attention so he can read from the piece of paper he is holding?
  • Looks as if not everyone could get into the building as there are people leaning in at the windows on either side.
  • The majority of the crowd look well dressed so none of the hoi polloi were represented!
  • It doesn’t really look as if anyone is taking an oath as I would recognize – one man at the front even appears to be praying.

This page from the University of Oregon shows an annotation of the etching.





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