Title

Brutus the Usurper: Discordance and Resolution in Jacques-Louis David’s Roman Tableau

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Spring 2020

Abstract

In the Paris Salon of 1789, Jacques-Louis David debuted The Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of His Sons as a final tableau to the story of Roman Consul Lucius Junius Brutus. The canvas embraces complexity and stands as an anomaly in David’s oeuvre, depicting Brutus as a father haunted by the necessities of his duty rather than as a heroic leader. Through visual analysis of David’s Brutus and consideration of Diderotian theory on theatricality, truth and antiquarianism, this essay will show that the dramatic tableau of Brutus presents a nuanced interpretation of traditional Roman virtue unique within David’s oeuvre, historically and contemporaneously, emphasizing the psychological and familial cost of revolution rather than overt nationalism. The timely reveal of the canvas, mere months after the fall of the Bastille in 1789, prompts questions of republicanism in current scholarship; however, a republican interpretation remains problematic due to the uncertainty surrounding the trajectory of the Revolution in the period. In opposition to the linearity of the Neoclassic aesthetic, the greater meaning of David’s Brutus is multifaceted. Through visual analysis of David’s Brutus and consideration of Diderotian theory on theatricality, truth and antiquarianism, this essay will show that the dramatic tableau of Brutus presents a nuanced interpretation of traditional Roman virtue unique within David’s oeuvre, historically and contemporaneously, emphasizing the psychological and familial cost of revolution rather than overt nationalism.

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Painting, French--18th century

Subjects - Names (LCNAF)

David, Jacques Louis, 1748-1825. Lictors bringing Brutus the bodies of his sons; David, Jacques Louis, 1748-1825--Criticism and interpretation

Genre/Form

student projects; term papers

Type

Text

Rights

Copying of this document in whole or in part is allowable only for scholarly purposes. It is understood, however, that any copying or publication of this document for commercial purposes, or for financial gain, shall not be allowed without the author’s written permission.

Language

English

Format

application/pdf

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