Born in Paris to a family of hardware merchants, Jacques-Louis David was raised at the age of 10 by his uncle, a royal bricklayer. As a keen painter, David was sent to Boucher for painting lessons with the help of family and friends. Seeing David's temperament inconsistent with his rococo style, Boucher transferred him to Vien, a professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
David's initial creations all sought the source and ideal of beauty from ancient Greco-Roman legends and art, considering ancient heroes' characteristics and artistic style as the highest standard of aesthetics. Later, he came into contact with some anti-feudal revolutionaries, such as Robespierre, the leader of the Jacobin Party, and had some changes in political thought and artistic concepts, and created works with the spirit of the times. He said: "Art must help the happiness and edification of the whole population. Art must reveal virtue and courage."
David continued to explore art creation in the context of the new era, breaking away from the classical stereotypes of causality. He drew on historical themes to reveal the revolutionary ideas of how to establish and consolidate a new social system and a new social ethos. When the storm of the Revolution came, David was not only a painter but also an active participant in the revolutionary struggle as a social activist and revolutionary. Using art as a fighting weapon against feudalism, he ascended to the world of painting and politics as a warrior.
Oath of the Horatii, created in 1784, made him famous, and its classical heroic theme, solemn colors and rigorous composition made it a masterpiece of the classical school of painting.
In the early days of the French Revolution, when the country was in internal and external difficulties, Louis XIII commissioned David to complete a painting to cheer up the people. Oath of the Horatii, commissioned by the royal court, reveals a new style of painting, Neo-Classicism. Both the interior's architecture and the figures' poses follow a strict geometric composition in his paintings.
The Death of Marat shows the assassination of Marat, a Jacobin leader who was killed during the French Revolution. The entire painting is pervaded by a sense of sadness and beauty, representing a moment in history that shakes the viewer's heart and reflects a real revolutionary era of passion and ideals, bloodshed and death. David visually repaired the skin condition on Mara's body to prevent the viewer from being disgusted by Mara's ugly image and filled the letter in Mara's hand with moving content. This painting creates a saintly Mara and arouses the viewer's hatred of the assassin.
The painting shows the three Horace brothers taking an oath to their father before going to war. The father holds three swords aloft, and the brothers swear an oath to them, facing their father with a firm, bold and stern step. The pillars and arches behind them add to the solemnity of the scene. The grieving women in the corner are their relatives, who did not want this war to happen, and the contrast between the frontal oath and the mourning in the corner adds to the poignancy of the scene.
The Death of Socrates depicts Socrates committing suicide by taking poison. In a dark and fortified prison, there is an open shackle and a scattered hand scroll in the foreground, evoking images of Socrates' life behind bars and increasing awareness and reverence for the hero.
The year 1794 was the most glorious year of David's artistic career. His art was full of the revolutionary atmosphere of the times, with a distinct political-ideological orientation, and he combined the classical art form with the real life of the times, becoming a revolutionary artist. But with the Thermidorian Reaction, the overthrow of the Jacobin regime, David was arrested and imprisoned, and after this dramatic change in history and personal fate, David's ideology changed dramatically in tandem with the situation. He stopped all social activities in those dark years and was very depressed, and his artistic life was also facing depletion. David created The Intervention of the Sabine Women against the background of this era and the reversal of the painter's personal will.
The painting depicts a dramatic scene from ancient Roman mythology. The ancient Romans plundered Sabine women as their wives in order to pass on their heritage in the land of their birth. Three years later, the Sabines waged war against the ancient Romans in revenge. In the painting, the Sabine women bravely stood between the two armies, mediating between the two tribes whose husbands were on one side and whose fathers and brothers were on the other.
When Napoleon seized power and established the empire, David again served Napoleon as the chief painter of the empire, and during this period, he created many works reflecting the heroic performance and image of Napoleon. After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Bourbon dynasty was restored, and David fled to Brussels, where he died ten years later in a foreign country.