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History has given the details of the combat between the Horatii and the Curiatii, but the scene represented here is a fiction invented by the artist : it is however conformable to Roman manners. The group of the three brothers is noble and full of life : we may fancy we hear them pronounce the oath, to conquer or die. The father's figure is less spirited, and although the want of boldness in his attitude may be attributed to his age, still it would be difficnlt to imagine him one of Romulus' old soldiers.
The group of the women presents a variety in the expression pathetically pleasing. The mother embraces her children whom she fears to see orphans. Sabina, the wife of the eldest of the Horatii, is unable to hide her emotion : the uneasiness she feels causes her to faint. As to Camilla a twofold motive excites her feelings : she is aware that the combat must deprive her, either of her brothers, or of her lover; and she gives herself up to sadness and tears.
It was in the Exhibition of 1784 tbat this picture appeared, it was received by the public with extraordinary enthusiasm presaging what twenty years later would be the reputation of the painter David. It is now in the grand gallery of the Louvre : it has been engraved by Alexander Morel.