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Work The Intervention of the Sabine Women

Department of Paintings: French painting

The Intervention of the Sabine Women

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
Ophélie Lerouge

After the abduction of the Sabine women by the neighboring Romans, the Sabines attempted to get them back - David depicts this episode here. The Sabine women are intervening to stop the bloodshed. Hersilia is throwing herself between her husband, the king of Rome, and her father, the king of the Sabines. David is using the subject to advocate the reconciliation of the French people after the Revolution. His increasingly simple style is inspired by Ancient Greece.

Heroines

David's painting depicts a legendary episode from Rome's beginnings in the 8th century BC. After the Sabine women had been abducted by the neighboring Romans (the scene Poussin depicted in his masterpiece The Rape of the Sabine Women, Louvre), the Sabines attempted to get them back. David shows the Sabine women intervening to stop the battle raging beneath the ramparts of the Capitol in Rome. The painting is a masterful summary of the whole episode. Hersilia is leaping between her father Tatius, the king of the Sabines, on the left, and her husband Romulus, the king of Rome, on the right. A woman is pointing at her children; another has thrown herself at a warrior's feet. The picture also evokes the happy consequences of their intervention. The horseman on the right is putting his sword back into its sheath while, further away, hands and helmets are raised in gestures of peace. Unlike in David's previous paintings (The Oath of the Horatii, Brutus, Louvre), women play the crucial role here.

A topical painting

David was a member of the Convention and a faithful partisan of Robespierre. In 1794, after Robespierre's downfall, he was imprisoned. It was during his incarceration that he began thinking about painting this subject, which would demonstrate that he was a man of peace and thus in tune with the spirit of the age. The canvas, eagerly awaited by the Paris art world, was finished five years later in 1799. David was extremely proud of the painting, which he considered his finest. Instead of showing it at the Salon, he presented it at an independent, paying exhibition in his studio in the Louvre - a type of event destined for a brilliant future. He wrote a text for the occasion, justifying this form of exhibition and the controversial nudity of the warriors.

"Pure Greekness"

While he was preparing this painting, whose subject is Roman, David proclaimed, "I want to paint pure Greekness." He wanted to mark his transition from the severe, Roman style of The Oath of the Horatii (Louvre) with a new pictorial manifesto. He also wanted to measure himself against the great artists of Ancient Greece. He adhered to the theories of the German archaeologist and historian of ancient art Johann Winckelmann on idealized beauty. In his painting, he depicted his warriors fighting naked, as in Greek sculpture, and opted for a frieze-like composition of minimal spatial depth. The effect is reinforced by the predominance of drawing over color, the uniform light, and a simplified color scheme. The new direction David's art had taken was a response to the ideas of some of his pupils, the "Primitives." Close to Ingres, they criticized their master's Roman inspiration and advocated an archaic style.

Bibliography

Schnapper Antoine, Jacques-Louis David 1748-1825, catalogue de l'exposition, musée du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989, p. 323-338.
Rosenblum Robert, " Essai de synthèse : les Sabines", in David contre David, I, colloque, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1989, p. 459-470.

Technical description

  • Jacques-Louis DAVID (Paris, 1748 - Brussels, 1825)

    The Intervention of the Sabine Women

    1799

  • H. 3.85 m; W. 5.22 m

  • Acquired in 1819

    INV. 3691

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Daru
    Room 75

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Additional information about the work

Signed and dated bottom left: David f.bat anno 1799.