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The Spartan Mother

Jacques Louis David French

Not on view

This recently rediscovered sheet was made in Naples in 1779, shortly before David’s return to Paris. Like Belisarius Begging for Alms, hanging nearby, it shows the artist generating ideas for pictures in the pared-down, classicizing manner he had developed over the course of his stay in Italy.

With this spare and dignified style he would pair moralizing subjects, in this case the legend of a Spartan mother sending her son off to war. She instructs him to return either "with shield in hand or lying under it"—in other words, victorious and borne home in triumph, or having died the glorious death of a hero.

The Spartan Mother, Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels), Pen and black and brown ink, brush and gray wash, over black chalk, heightened with white gouache

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