Jean-Louis David and Jean-Jacques Rousseau Essay

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Jean-Louis David + Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Question : In what ways and to what extent is an understanding of historical context important in approaching the works of (a) David and (b) Rousseau?

"The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons", is a painting by the French artist Jean-Louis David in 1789. Having led the fight which overthrew the monarchy and established the Roman Republic. Brutus tragically saw his sons participate in a plot to restore the monarchy. As a judge, he was called upon to render the verdict, and without hesitation condemned his two sons to death.

The full title of this work is "Brutus Returning Home after having Sentenced his Sons for Plotting a Tarquinian Restoration and Conspiring against Roman
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This was not an uncommon reaction towards David's art at the time. However, the painting was restored to a place of honor by Baudelaire, who wrote :

"This painting is David's masterpiece and one of the great curiosities of modern art because, by a strange feat, it has nothing trivial or vile. What is most surprising in this very unusual visual poem is that it was painted very quickly. When one thinks of the beauty of the lines, this quickness is bewildering. This is food for the strong, the triumph of spiritualism."

David's artwork did not just involve the use of "pretty" colours. Many of his paintings beared powerfull meanings, historically and politically. Culturally they had a huge impact on social activity during the French Revolution. The story of Brutus was popular with educated sections of the French public during the eighteenth century. Voltaire's play "Brutus", was performed on stage from 1730. In November 1790, the first two performances of a revival of "Brutus" at the National Theater in Paris took place. At the second performance of the revival, a stage tableau of David's painting was acted out at the moment when the death of Brutus' son was announced.

Like his later "Death of Marat", David's "Brutus" can be seen as a representation of a kind of political heroism in which the best interests of society are put before those of the individual. His painting also appeared at a time when a general dissatisfaction

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