Jacques-Louis David

Date of birth
Jacques-Louis David was born in Paris in 1748, the son of an iron merchant who was killed in a duel (an unusual circumstance in his social class), when the boy was nine years old. His mother, Geneviève Buron, came of a family of builders and architects and was distantly related to the painter François Boucher (1703-1770). Under the guardianship of uncles on his mother's side, Louis received a sound classical education. His guardians wished to train him as an architect, but he insisted on being allowed to study painting. Following the advice of Boucher, he was placed in the studio of Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809), the leading promoter of the neoclassical reaction against the rococo. David's student work, strikingly rococo at first, was slow in adjusting to the ascendancy of classicism. He competed four times for the Rome Prize, beginning in 1771 with an awkward pastiche of Boucher (Battle between Mars and Minerva, Louvre); failing again in 1772 with Diana and Apollo Killing the Children of Niobe (lost), which enraged him to the point of threatening suicide; and still unsuccessful in his third try in 1773 (Death of Seneca, PetitPal). His fourth attempt, Antiochus and Stratonice (1774, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris), finally won him the prize and gave the first indication of his turning to classicism.