The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons
|Type||oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||323 cm × 422 cm (127 in × 166 in)|
The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons (French: Les licteurs rapportent à Brutus les corps de ses fils) is a 1789 painting by the French painter Jacques-Louis David in the Neo-Classical manner.
The work had tremendous appeal for the time. Before the opening of the Salon, the French Revolution had begun. The National Assembly had been established, and the Bastille had fallen. The royal court did not want propaganda agitating the people, so all paintings had to be checked before being hung. David’s portrait of Lavoisier, who was a chemist and physicist as well as an active member of the Jacobin party, was banned by the authorities for such reasons. When the newspapers reported that the government had not allowed the showing of The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons, the people were outraged, and the royals were forced to give in. The painting was hung in the exhibition, protected by art students.
The painting depicts Lucius Junius Brutus, the Roman leader, grieving for his sons. Brutus's sons had attempted to overthrow the government and restore the monarchy, so the father ordered their death to maintain the republic. Thus, Brutus was the heroic defender of the republic, at the cost of his own family. On the right, the Mother holds her two daughters, and the servant is seen on the far right, in anguish. Brutus sits on a klismos on the left, alone, brooding, but knowing what he did was best for his country. The whole painting was a Republican symbol, and obviously had immense meaning during these times in France.
Note Brutus' tense, crossed feet in the picture, the sharp scissors that lay dead in the center of the painting, and the use of light and dark to draw a distinction between Brutus and his wife. Brutus does not even look back as his headless sons are brought into the room.
- David - The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons A video discussion about the painting from Smarthistory, Khan Academy.