Please compare the use of elements in The Oath of Horatii (c. 1784, oil on canvas) by Jacques Louis David to the use of elements in Mozart’s  Symphony 40 in G minor.  Explain and Focus on...

Please compare the use of elements in The Oath of Horatii (c. 1784, oil on canvas) by Jacques Louis David to the use of elements in Mozart’s  Symphony 40 in G minor

Explain and Focus on the similarities of the parallel elements:

1.  Form as a visual art and musical element

2.  Space as a visual art element and Rhythm as a musical element 


Expert Answers
durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In comparing visual art elements with musical elements such as in The Oath of Horatio by Jacques-Louis David and Mozart's Symphony 40 in G minor, there is an attempt to make connections in time and place whilst still being able to appreciate the individual expression so clearly defined in either piece. David's work explores timeless issues of allegiance and loyalty, family values and concerns whereas Mozart, in the referred to piece, explores a romanticized and possibly even unrealistic view of the same thing. This piece is one of only two symphonies written by Mozart in a minor key and this in itself links it to David's piece when considering the highs and lows experienced when, in this instance, sons leave home to defend their state or country and so on.

Mozart, in his unique style, ensures that the harmonies he creates progress 

to a cadence in the dominant or tonic key... But Mozart shifted the sequence so that the cadence ended on the stronger half, i.e., the first beat of the bar.

This creates a consistency, despite the disquiet created through the changing tempo and rhythm. We see the same consistency in David's work as we understand the implications of nobility and respect coupled with the tragedy and inevitability of the loss that is likely to follow. David makes full use of his canvas and the purposeful positioning of key "characters" making it clear that the women exist in the same space and suffer the same triumphs and despair as the men. This simultaneous use of otherwise contradictory settings and space reveals a similarity to the rhythm of Mozart's 40th as he slips between apparent dominance and a quiet, almost humbling experience. 

Through this use of form, both pieces can be seen as direct and distinct with little interpretation of intention required. Both intend to reveal the passion created by the scenario, the triumph, the drama and the inevitability. Mozart is able to take us by surprise as we become contemplative, only to be shocked into the realization of a far bigger picture. So too with David as we come to appreciate the pain associated with victory. The two pieces come together in the understanding that glory and honor always exist within a repeating pattern of existence. They both "flow" and we come to understand that that intense pleasure brings equally intense sadness. There is a consistency in this and a level of caution which ensures that both pieces remain grounded.

lonestargirl56 | Student

Hello, thank you for your answer.  I am looking for an explanation similar to this one on Form(art)/Form(music) and Rhythm/Space, comparing these two works, is there someone who can verify this answer:


Art form usually is a three-dimensional geometrical figure (i.e.: sphere, cube, cylinder, cone, etc.) as opposed to Music Form which is the piece's musical elements and the way those elements are united or form. In this perspective, form then allows the listeners to mentally capture the work, understand it, and attempt to analyze it. In Mozart’s Symphony #40, the instrumentation of the woodwinds, french horns, and strings, put the form of visible elements to this piece, independent of their meaning, while listening to it, a form of mystery and intrigue develop. European classical music had only six stand-alone forms: simple binary, simple ternary, compound binary, rondo, air with variations, and fugue. With its exciting Theme 1 and lyrical Theme 2, the symphony imparts itself to an easy understanding of the Sonata Form with its multi-movement pieces. Sonata form is such an integral part of Mozart’s Symphony #40 that the composer used it for three of the four movements for different purposes (only the third, the minuet/trio does not follow sonata form). In contrast, when viewing Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, the formal elements are: color, dimension, lines, mass, shape, etc., while all part of form, David’s masterpiece also represents feelings of mystery and intrigue from the viewer’s imagination. The viewer's eye spontaneously grasps two overlaid forms: the figures and that of the decor. The first is striking because it is organized into three different groups or forms, each with a different purpose. The forms on the left shows natural energy of the oath, upheld loudly and with a show of strength, while the forms on the right of this piece is a emotional scene of grief, movement turned in upon itself, compressed into emotion (similar to Theme 1 and lyrical Theme 2 sonata form in Mozart’s work). The distance between the figures in David’s piece as well as the distance between each movement in Mozart’s piece accentuates this contrast.


Music Rhythm, like speech, were used for recitative and improvisatory instrumental works. Rhythms were used to arouse affections. Bar lines in Mozart’s piece shows strong and weak beats. Baroque dances continued: using rhythmic dances for chamber music. Unlike David’s painting, which is a composition in space; a musical work is a composition dependent upon time (rhythm). Rhythm is music’s pattern in time. Whatever other elements a given piece of music may have (e.g., patterns in pitch or timbre), rhythm is  one essential element of all music. Rhythm can exist without melody, as in the drumbeats of primitive music, but melody cannot exist without rhythm. In music that has both harmony and melody, the rhythmic structure cannot be separated from them. Plato’s observation that rhythm is “an order of movement” provides a convenient ordered starting point. In Mozart’s Rhythm, metre and tempo is - 4/4 throughout. - molto allegro tempo (very fast). - Simple rhythms and occasional use of dotted rhythms and syncopation to build momentum and add interest. In Art, space refers to distances or areas around, between or within components of a piece. Space can be positive (white or light) or negative (black or dark), open or closed, shallow or deep and two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Sometimes space isn't actually within a piece, but the illusion of it is. The combination or arrangement of formal elements, create movement, tension, and emotional value in the development of the plot in Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii. The painting by David depicts actors on a stage with minimal spatial movement, though there is a rhythm of diagonals set up by the stance of the men’s legs and their weapons. All colors are subdued, with a kind of sensual beauty. The composition is visually balanced, with three clusters of figures crowned by three arches, to produce a frozen, ageless expression of purpose before taking action.