Paris and Helen

Jacques Louis David French

Not on view

In addition to his own drawings, David’s Roman albums included tracings (probably done by a fellow student). In this case, a tracing based on a print shows the designs on an ancient vase in the collection of the British ambassador to Naples, William Hamilton. It in turn inspired David to make a quick sketch of the central two figures: the Trojan prince Paris with the Spartan queen Helen, whose love would set into motion the Trojan War.

Signaling a greater interest in the amorous than the martial elements of the story, David has swapped Paris’s spear for a zither (string instrument) and is exploring how the intertwined poses might at once convey longing and foreboding. The theme was eventually developed into a canvas for King Louis XVI’s younger brother, Charles Philippe, comte d’Artois.

Paris and Helen, Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels), Black chalk

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