(b. 1748, Paris, d. 1825, Bruxelles)
The Intervention of the Sabine Women1799
Oil on canvas, 385 x 522 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
David, the political activist, was imprisoned in 1794. He survived the political change, and while still in prison planned a return to history painting and started work on The Intervention of Sabine Women, a project that was to occupy him until 1799. This subject, from ancient Rome, was the aftermath of the rape of the Sabines when, to ensure the population growth of their city, Romulus and his Romans abducted the womenfolk of their neighbours, the Sabines. Three years passed before the Sabine men, led by Tatius, mounted a counterattack. For the first time in a history painting by David, the central figure is a woman, Hersilia, who forces herself between Romulus, her husband, on the right, and the Sabine Tatius, her father, on the left. Other women cling to the warriors and place themselves and their children between the opposing groups.
In this painting David contrasted the violence of the rape with the pacification of the intervention. The image of family conflict in the Sabines was a metaphor of the revolutionary process which had now culminated in peace and reconciliation. The painting was a tribute to Madame David, and a recognition of the power of women as peacemakers.