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

Deputies swearing oaths

Pen, ink and wash with black chalk, 490 x 600 mm
Musée National du Château, Versailles

Such an ambitious project as The Oath of the Tennis Court required an enormous amount of preliminary work and David filled two sketchbooks and many individual sheets with details and figure studies. He went to Versailles and drew the empty tennis court, and experimented with the poses of the deputies. As he had not witnessed the oath, he wrote little notes on his sketches to remind himself of how characters should appear, and which small but telling details to include: 'do not forget to show the deputies moved to tears and holding their hands to their eyes', 'remember to show the dust that was raised by the movement of the action' and 'remember the bell' (used not very successfully by Bailly to call the noisy and animated deputies to order). David saw the oath as a modern and greatly expanded version of the Horatii and the deputies became the equivalents of the heroes of antiquity.