In 669 B.C. the fight between Rome and Alba Longa for the conquest of the middle part of the Italian peninsula was getting quite intense. Either they were getting into a bloody battle, or they could solve the dispute in another way. Indeed, the two contenders decided to select a family representing Rome and Alba Longa.
In fact, the three brothers of the Horatii family were going to challenge three Curiati brothers from Alba Longa. The winner of the dispute was going to win the battle.
The French neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David portrayed this legend from the Latin author, Titus Livius‘ work, Ab Urbe Condita (about the history of Rome), in his famous painting, which in a way inspired the French revolution, called “Oath of the Horatii.”
The painting delivers a powerful message. The three Horatii brothers were loyal to their father. However, they willingly sacrificed for the sake of the nation. In other words, it wasn’t anymore family first, but the family had to sacrifice in honor of Rome. That was the new ideal of the ancient hero, which got resurrected in modern times.
The message is powerful. It is about heroism, devotion to the state and a new form of courage. However, I want to show you what Jacques-Louis David can teach you about delivering a powerful message to your audience. I want to show you how the painting looked like just before the final version:
Can you notice any difference with the last version?
If you pose your eyes for a few seconds, you will notice many details that are missing in the final version of the painting. There are a few things that jump to eye:
You can see how the last artwork has fewer details compared to the draft version. For instance, the background is much darker and in a sort of penumbra. The sculpture where the wives of the Horatii brothers are sitting is missing in the final version. Last but not least also the poses are somewhat different.
Do you think that happened by chance? It did not. Jacques-Louis David had a clear message in mind, and he had to deliver it as efficiently as possible through his painting. There are three key lessons I think any marketer can learn from this artwork:
It’s all about the meaning
I believe Jacques-Louis David teaches us a valuable lesson: have the purpose of your message clear in mind. In short, at times marketers tend to confuse the end for the mean. That is how the message itself becomes the mean. Yet the message you deliver is only a vehicle for what’s the idea behind it. In other words, what is the meaning you want to deliver through the message? Just by answering this question you can draft a message that can be as powerful as possible.
Keep it simple
As you can see from the example above, Jacques-Louis David could have opted for a more complex painting; more abundant in details. Instead, he simplified it. Why? Because the purpose of the painting was not the answer itself but the message it contained. In short, he focused on the audience, rather than take proud only of the aesthetic.
Jacques-Louis David had that clear in mind. That is why he simplified the message to make sure the audience would focus on the meaning.
Create emphasis on one powerful concept
Also the poses of the main characters where somehow molded to create a compelling scene with one powerful meaning. The swords were sharped. The poses exacerbated. The light got emphasized on the parts of the view that was more congenial to the symbolic importance of the painting. Thus, anyone not even aware of the story behind would be able to grasp the meaning.
Putting it all together
The Oath of the Horatii, by the French painter Jacques-Louis David, is an incredible artwork. But most of all is an excellent work of communication. Its meaning was so powerful that in a way inspired the French revolution.
Even though the artist could have focused merely on the aesthetic part of it, he never forgets why he was crafting that painting. That is why he focused on the meaning, rather than the message. He also kept it simple, while emphasized those parts of the scene congenial to deliver the symbolic meaning behind the painting.
If Jacques-Louis David were alive today, he would have been one of the most excellent marketers of our time.