Analysis of the Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David Hey there, this is art history class to describe the art picture . It is two pages ANALYZING double space . One last thing about writing a Formal Analysis
Just like there is no one way to make fabulous chocolate chip cookies, there is no one special
way to write a Formal Analysis; there are many ways to do this and get an A grade- the guide
was just to give you a framework, but you do NOT have to include all of those art terms. If you
are describing a marble statue, you will use sculptural terms, if instead you are describing a
painting, then you would use painting terms, etc., with all types of art (Architecture, Tapestries,
Illuminated Manuscripts, whatever you like)
The reason that instructors make you write this is so that you
1. Slowly learn to really look at objects and learn the vocabulary of art,
2. Know you need a thesis statement placed in the last sentence of the first paragraph,
3. Then…. write a few paragraphs that start with a topic sentence and all the info that follows in
that paragraph relates to that topic,
3. And finally, write a conclusion where you sum up what you wrote and add any observations
of your own.
For professors that are formal, do not use the first person…. “Here I see the outlines of the
statue are flowing…” for example. Drop the “Here I see”, and instead write, “The artist was
attempting to show flowing drapery which can be seen in his use of lines to imply flowing”- see
what I mean? I do not go crazy if students use the “I see…” or first-person voice, but some
Prof’s do, so just a heads up.
To get you started, below is a short list of defined art terms.
I have already used many terms in class, (votives, crenellations, revetments,
profile, etc.) and you can find more terms in any art history book or Goggle it
online. But again, you only need to use the terms that apply to what you are
To re-cap: 2 pages, double spaced, edited, it is your turn to play Art Historian!
Asymmetrical: A balance achieved through the use of unequal parts or elements. (For example:
imagine a beach ball by the side of a stick and two baseballs on the other side balancing out the
Balance: A principle of art and design concerned with the arrangement of one or more elements in
a work of art so that they appear symmetrical (identical compositional units on either side of an
axis) or asymmetrical (not identical) in design and proportion.
Color: Element of art derived from reflected light. The sensation of color is aroused in the brain by
response of the eyes to different wavelengths of light. Color has three properties: hue, value,
Composition: The arrangement of forms in a work of art.
Content: A work of art is usually discussed in terms of its subject matter, form and content. Content
refers to the intellectual, psychological, spiritual, narrative or aesthetic aspect of the work.
Contour drawing: An outline that shows only the edge and not the volume or mass of an object.
Sometimes called blind contour if the artists in not looking at their paper, only at their subject.
Contrast: Use of opposites near or beside one another (light and dark, rough and smooth).
Cool colors: mostly green, blue, violet (purple).
Dominance: The difference in importance of one aspect in relation to all other aspects of design.
What stands out most in a work of art.
Emphasis: Principle of design concerned that stresses one element or area in a work of art to make
it attract the viewer’s attention first.
Exaggeration: Increasing or enlarging an object or figure or one of its parts to communicate ideas
Federal Arts Project: Government program established during the Depression to create jobs for
Focal point: The center of interest of an artwork; the part you look at first.
Form: An artist uses form as a vehicle for rendering a particular type of subject matter. The formal
elements of a work consist of the groupings and combinations of shapes.
Gouache: Pigments ground in water and mixed with gum to form opaque watercolor. Gouache
resembles school tempera paint or poster paint.
Hue: The name of a color – red blue, yellow, etc.
Intensity: Brightness of a color.
Line: An identifiable path of a point moving in space. It can vary in width, direction, and length.
Horizontal lines tend to create a sense of calm in a picture. Vertical lines tend to create a feeling of
stability. Diagonal lines tend to create a feeling of dynamic movement.
Medium: The specific material used by an artist, such as oil and brush; also, the vehicle used, such
as sculpture, painting or photography.
Motif: Unit repeated in visual rhythm. Units in a motif may or may not be an exact duplicate of the
Pattern: Two-dimensional decorative visual repetition. A pattern has no movement and may or
may not have rhythm.
Pictorial space: The illusion of space, whether three- or two-dimensional, created by an artist on
the two-dimensional surface of the canvas or paper.
Proportion: Principle of design concerned with the size relationships of one part to the whole and
one part to another.
Rhythm: Principal of design that repeats elements to create the illusion of movement. Visual
rhythm is perceived through the eyes, and is created by repeating positive spaces separated by
negative spaces. Alternating rhythm is when the visual rhythm set up by repeating motifs but
changing position or content of motifs or spaces between them. Flowing rhythm is created by
repetition of wavy lines. Progressive rhythm is a visual rhythm that changes a motif each time it is
repeated. Random rhythm is a repetition in no apparent order with no regular spaces. Regular
rhythm is achieved through repeating identical motifs using the same intervals of space between
Screen print: Printing technique that makes use of a squeegee to force ink directly onto a piece of
paper or canvas through a stencil containing the image. (The process is also called silk-screen or
Shade: The dark values of a color (adding black).
Shape: Geometric shapes look as though they were made with a straight edge or drawing tool;
square, circle, triangle and oval. Organic shapes are also called free form. These shapes are not
regular or even. Their edges are curved and angular or a combination of both.
Space: (or negative space): is the element of sculpture, which refers to emptiness or areas
between, around, above, below or within objects.
Subject matter: The topic of interest or the primary theme of an artwork.
Texture: refers to the way things feel or look as though they might feel if they were touched.
Tint: light values of a color (adding white)
Unity: The arrangement of one or more of the elements used to create a feeling of completeness.
Everything in the work seems to belong and contribute to the overall picture.
Value: Light or dark; the variations of light and dark on the surface of an object. The lightness or
darkness of a color.
Variety: Principle of design concerned with difference or contrast.
Warm colors: red, orange, yellow.
Writing a Formal Analysis in Art History
The goal of a formal analysis is to explain how the formal elements of a work of art affect the
representation of the subject matter and expressive content. The emphasis should be on analyzing
the formal elements—not mainly interpreting the artwork. That said, an understanding of the
meaning of the work is the final goal of any formal analysis.
It may be helpful to start by looking at the work of art and identifying the visual elements. How
are they arranged? Is the work balanced? Is there a focal point? Is there a sense of movement?
How does the artist use color and line? You might consider why the artist chose to include
certain elements and how each element contributes to you, the viewers, response to the work.
Formal elements of painting: Oath of the Horatii by French Painter J.L. David
composition (why the figures are placed where they are- in a triangle, using trees as brackets,
color – look up these terms : + ) Artist will love you for doing this!
o – hue
o – value
– contour lines (heavier lines to hold the eye to that area of the canvas)
– lines of direction or movement (curvy versus straight, diagonal to get eye to move up)
shape (repeated circles and squares? Or one of everyitng?)
contrast (Light areas in the painting versus dark areas create mood, think Film Noir!)
texture (Smooth like a photograph or rough and textured use of paint)
technique – Linear (drawing the entire image first) vs. Painterly (blocking in the images by color,
not line, then painting over the drawing) linear painting is usually Academic or line driven painting
illusionistic (blurred idea of space versus actual 3-D space)
The Dreaded Thesis Statement: LOL! Your thesis should provide a framework for your
analysis and suggest your interpretation of the work. It tells the reader what the paper is
about. A thesis statement does not necessarily involve a statement of argument or original
insight, but it should let the reader know what the painting looks like and hint about the
artist’s formal choices.
Words to use in an effective thesis statement for the above painting could include: the
18th century French artist J. L. David used high contrast in his display of lighting, a
subdued color pallet, visual accuracy in his depiction of objects based on the re-discovery
of Pompeii, straight line for males, curvy lines for females, and finally crisp lines in
general to capture the energy of the figures and provide an evocative and sensational
interpretation of an Oath of Fidelity scene.
Formal elements or vocabulary of painting and sculpture:
in-the-round vs. relief (revetment is a term for a carved panel)
shape- organic (looks like nature) vs. geometric (using geometry to get your shapes)
open form /closed form (full image or silhouette)
material- canvas, oils, fresco, marble, etc.
texture- smooth like a line driven Academic work or textured (a van Gogh, with impasto or
volume (Things take up space in the real world, it that being depicted in the work?)
light and shadow (Think a Hitchcock mystery movie…. Color creates mood)
the actual color- Pastels? Black and White? Shades of Grey? Primary colors, a mix of both?
technique- additive? (so bronze, where you soldier things together) vs. subtractive (stone, were
you cut off of a block)
The Analysis: Although a description is an important part of a formal analysis, description is not
enough by itself. Introduce and contextualize your descriptions of the work, so that the reader
understands how each element influences the work’s overall effect on the you, the viewer. You
may include your emotional responses to a work, but you must explain them and back them up
with evidence, in other words, the formal elements that elicit your emotional response.
Note: It may seem obvious but it is worth saying, all description and analysis should relate to
your thesis, which should relate to the piece of artwork you chose.
Suggested Structure for a Formal Analysis:
Introduction: The introduction should identify the title of the work of art, the name of the artist,
and the approximate date it was created. Indicate the medium, the period in which it was created
and its current location if known. While biographical information about the artist is not
necessary, if you do know something about the artist’s interests or the interests of the period that
influenced the work, you may include it. Typically, your introduction should conclude with your
thesis statement, which will suggest the meaning or content of the work in order to introduce the
formal elements you have chosen to analyze.
Body/Development of Analysis: In the most straightforward organization, each element you
discuss in your paper should be analyzed in its own paragraph. You may find it helpful to begin
each paragraph with a topic sentence about the significance of the element and end with a
concluding statement. You may also organize your analyses of the formal elements according to
major figures, a focal point, or other significant effects in the art piece you chose.
Conclusion: The conclusion summarizes your findings and relates back to the themes presented
in your introduction; however, you should avoid simply repeating everything like a laundry list
(boring!!!) of what you said in the introduction. You may can include any new ideas, insights, or
understandings you gained about the work through the analysis process.
Work Referenced: If you want to get more information on writing a formal analysis, find the
book below, it is in the library unless someone has it checked out. If it is missing, go peak
on the internet, I bet someone has scanned it up there! And notice, I put the book below in
the MLA format so you know how to do a bibliography entry.
Barnet, Sylvan. A Short Guide to Writing About Art. Eighth Edition. Upper Saddle River, New
Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.
Purchase answer to see full