DAVID, Jacques-Louis
(b. 1748, Paris, d. 1825, Bruxelles)

The Loves of Paris and Helen

Oil on canvas, 144 x 180 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

David exhibited at the Salon of 1789 The Loves of Paris and Helen, an important private work for the Count d'Artois, the king's dissolute brother. David had begun work on the painting in 1786, but, due to a long illness it was not completed until 1788. The Loves of Paris and Helen was a work on a new theme, and to express the amorous nature of the subject, David greatly modified the uncompromising and severe style of his previous paintings: the two figures are smooth and sculptural and are bathed in subtle light. David took great trouble over the details in this painting of courtship and physical attraction. A statue of Venus, goddess of love, is placed on a column at the left, and we also see two wreaths of myrtle, an evergreen sacred to Venus and an emblem of conjugal fidelity. For added, although incorrect, detail in the background, David included four caryatids copied from the Salle des Cent-Suisses in the Louvre.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 3 minutes):
Cristoph Willibald Gluck: Paride ed Elena, Paris' aria