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

Portrait of Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès

Oil on canvas, 98 x 74 cm
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge

Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès had been one of the prominent political figures of the Revolution and the Empire, a radical clergyman and was the author of the pamphlet What is the Third Estate? which had been so influential in the events of 1789. He had been present at the Oath of the Tennis Court, voted for the death of Louis XVI and helped Napoleon to seize power in the Brumaire coup of 1799. As the Latin inscription at the top of the painting tells us - AETATIS SUAE 69 - in 1817 he was David's exact contemporary, but he appears much younger. There is a direct contact between sitter and viewer and from Sieyès's pose and facial expression we get strong ideas about this man's determination and obstinacy - characteristics with which David readily identified.