Nostalgia for the Past
Nostalgia can take many forms, but can perhaps be summarized by the phrase 'appropriating selected aspects of the past for the use of the present'. It tends to involve an emotional or spiritual response to the past rather than a rationalizing one, and as a result is associated with the art of sentiment rather than of intellect. As we shall see, however, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists who made use of nostalgia were prepared to shape its appeal in intellectual as well as purely sentimental or aesthetic forms.
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) was a passionately political artist, a proponent of history painting in its most elevated form and of the neoclassicist aesthetic. His 'The Oath of the Horatii' of 1784 (Louvre, Paris) depicts a scene from the Roman historian Livy: the three Horatii brothers pledge to fight the three Curiatii brothers in order to settle a dispute between...
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