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Work The Intervention of the Sabine Women
Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century
Les Sabines arrêtant le combat entre les Romains et les Sabins
RMN-Grand Palais - Photo T. Le Mage
Prints and Drawings
Executed in 1794, this is the earliest known preparatory drawing for a famous painting completed only in 1798-9 (Louvre, Paris). It also represents an appeal for national reconciliation after the bloody divisions of the Revolution. The composition would be considerably transformed in the successive studies, and the painting itself has the combatants, most notably Romulus and Tatius, naked in the foreground.
An episode from the history of Rome
The subject chosen by David in September 1794, imprisoned after Thermidor and eager to signal his abandonment of a lost cause, can be seen as a parable of reconciliation. It is inspired by an episode from the history of Rome: after Romulus and his soldiers had abducted the Sabine women, war broke out between the Romans and the Sabines under Tatius, and it was the intervention of the women themselves which brought it to an end. Holding up their children in the face of the raised spears, they beg the two sides to cease their fighting.
A painting long in the making
This drawing, done in prison, was the first idea for a composition which took at least four years to complete. It is known that another compositional study (now lost) showed the combatants naked. David then did another preparatory drawing, also at the Louvre (Inv. 26183), which has them clothed once again. He also produced numerous detail studies, on loose sheets or in sketchbooks. There are four very fine studies of the drapery of the principal female figures, among them Hersilia, who can be seen in the middle of the drawing, arms outspread. In the final composition the various figures would be more closely entangled: the drawing is much less complex.
A classical composition
The drawing suggests both a stage, with the urban scenery briefly sketched in the background, and an antique relief, with Tatius, Hersilia and Romulus, the three principal figures, practically in the same plane. One also notes the relative stockiness of the figures and the theatrical air of the whole. The drawing has been squared, to facilitate being copied on another scale. On the back is a very beautiful study, unfortunately truncated, for a painting (now lost) which David had done the previous year, the Portrait of Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau on his Death-bed, homage to a regicide member of the Constitutional Convention assassinated just before the execution of Louis XVI.
BibliographyP. Rosenberg, L.-A. Prat, Jacques Louis David 1748-1825 : Catalogue raisonné des dessins, 2002, I, n 146
Jacques-Louis David (Paris, 1748 - Brussels, 1825)
The Intervention of the Sabine Women
Black chalk, pen and black ink, gray wash with white heightening on two sheets and five fragments of paper pasted together
H. 25.7 cm; W. 34 cm
Espercieux Collection (1757-1840); collection of Mlle Caroline Gasnier, the legatee. Collection of Mme Marie-Françoise Dey, her adoptive daughter. Mme Charles Damour Collection, sale, Paris, 1903, lot no. 99; purchased by Alfred Beurdeley (1847-1919). Purchased at the 9th Beurdeley sale (Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, November 30 - December 2, 1920, lot no. 108) and presented to the Louvre by the Friends of the Louvre.
Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.
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