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The Distribution of the Eagles

Jacques Louis David French

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 634

After completing The Coronation, David was directed to depict an event staged on the Champ-de-Mars, a large open space in front of the Ecole Militaire, in which the French troops enacted an oath of loyalty to Napoleon. The ceremony involved exchanging the flags from the republican campaigns for new regimental banners referred to as imperial "eagles."

This recently discovered oil sketch contains layers of studies—visible in X-radiograph and infrared images—that shed light on the evolution of the composition. In his typical process, David first sketched the figures nude in black chalk. Details of costume and chromatic effects were then explored with dabs and ribbons of oil paint.

The Distribution of the Eagles, Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels), Oil over black chalk, on paper laid down on canvas

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