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Work Marius at Minturnae

Department of Paintings: French painting

Marius prisonnier à Minturnes

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
De Vergnette François

This picture is Drouais' masterpiece. David's most gifted pupil and a Prix de Rome laureate at twenty, he died at twenty-five. He painted the picture in Rome, two years after David's Oath of the Horatii, to which it is often compared. He glorifies the exemplary bravery of the imprisoned Roman general Marius who, by his authority alone, disarms the soldier sent to kill him. The neoclassicism of his composition is even more severe and rigorous than David's

"Would you dare kill Marius?"

The Roman general Marius, seated, designated by his helmet on the table, was defeated by his rival Sylla. This scene takes place in 89 BC, at Minturnae in Campania, where he was taken prisoner, tried and sentenced to death. Emphatically gesturing to the soldier who has come to execute him, he says, "Would you dare kill Marius?" The young soldier has stepped back and, unable meet the general's piercing gaze, has covered his face with his cloak. The Greek biographer Plutarch recounts this heroic deed in his Lives of Illustrious Men, adding that the soldier fled, crying out, "I could never kill Marius!" Drouais here painted a dramatic subject and a figure seen as a paragon of courage and moral power, as his master David had done in the Oath of the Horatii (Musée du Louvre).

The masterpiece of David's disciple

Drouais, who was David's favorite pupil, painted this picture in Rome during his stay there as laureate of the Grand Prix de Peinture in 1783. He began the painting as soon as he arrived in 1784 but did not finish it until 1786. Drouais had previously helped his master to paint the Oath of the Horatii. Back in Paris, David continued to lavish Drouais with advice on how to paint this picture, which was widely acclaimed when it was exhibited at the French Academy in Rome. The young painter, who was gifted enough to have become David's rival, died in Rome two years later, in 1788, at the age of twenty-five.

"Drouais' Oath of the Horatii"

The picture's subject and some of its formal aspects, similar to David's Oath of the Horatii, make it a typically neoclassical work. Drouais, like his master, opted for life-size figures set on the same plane in a cubic space. He also applied David's geometrical construction for the figures, using straight, mostly diagonal lines. Marius' outstretched arm, charged with meaning, stands out even more because it is horizontal. The forms are set parallel to the picture plane, as is the palm of Marius' hand, though in a slightly forced manner. Drouais has gone even farther than David in terms of severity and rigor. The contrasts of light and shade are harsh and the colors have a metallic feel to them.

Bibliography

Michel Régis, "Drouais et Rome : Notule introductive à l'étude de l'oeuvre peint", David et Rome, catalogue d'exposition, Rome, Académie de France, Rome, De Luca Editore, 1981, p. 200-204.
Ramade Patrick, Jean-Germain Drouais 1763-1788, catalogue d'exposition, Rennes, musée des Beaux-Arts, 1985, p. 48-50.
Crow Thomas, L'atelier de David. Émulation et Révolution, Paris, Gallimard, 1997 p. 83-89 (traduit de l'anglais).

Technical description

  • Germain-Jean DROUAIS (Paris, 1763 - Rome, 1788)

    Marius prisonnier à Minturnes

    1786

  • H. : 2,71 m. ; L. : 3,65 m.

  • Acquis Mlle Marie-Jeanne Doré, tante de l'artiste, 1816 , 1816

    INV. 4143

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Daru
    Room 75

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