Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons


I write poetry, as many of you know. I often use great works of art for inspiration. This one I was never able to write a poem about. It is too ... it is too...

It is also a male experience, I cannot really get my mind around.

It is said that the full title of the painting, by Jacques Louis David, which I recently saw in the Louvres -- yes, we turned a corner on our tour and there it was -- is "Brutus Returning Home after Having Sentenced His Sons for Plotting a Tarquinian Restoration and Conspiring against Roman Freedom; the Lictors Bring their Bodies to be Buried."

The story is that Brutus, as you know, overthrew Caesar. He overthrew the monarchy and thereby established the Roman Republic. Then his sons turned around and plotted to assasinate Brutus, in order to restore the monarchy. As a judge, it was Brutus' job to render the verdict when his sons were caught. He condemned them to death.

In the painting, the lictors bring the bodies into the house. On the right are Brutus' wife, and probably the daughters-in-law, and maybe their daughter as well.

I use this painting in The EQ Course, where we analyze the painting. Why would David choose such a moment to paint? Because there can be few moments as horrible, so full of emotion, and it was worthy of his great talent. It is a moment of intense emotion frozen in time -- like a poem. We look at the postures, the expressions, the placement of the figures and practise finding the words (emotional expression). Look, for instance, at 'the hand that once ruled the world.' Look at Brutus' feet. See how he sits in the dark. And the look on his face; it is almost too much to bear.

There is a purpose to everything an artist does. The canvas is his; the topic is his. David puts the women on the right, in the light. He puts the man on the left in the dark. Why? Share your thoughts.

When taking the course, and working on this painting, one of my students wrote: "I never knew all that was in a painting. Thank you."

How can we thank the artists?

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1 comment:

jlivermorejr said...

There were two well-known Brutus in Roman history, one was the Brutus (Marcus Junius Brutus) who killed Caeser, which happen in 1st century BC, another Brutus was Lucius Junius Brutus, who lived in 6th century BC, much earlier than the above Brutus. Lucius Brutus expeled the last king of Rome Tarquinius, established the republic Rome. The painting depicted the story of Lucius Brutus, not Marcus Brutus.