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As Roe is Overturned, an 18th Century Painting Brings People Solace

By: Alex Yang

The US Supreme Court overturning Roe vs Wade will have deep and immediate consequences. Those devastated by the news have already reported symptoms including ghost period cramps, nausea, and headaches. But an 18th-century painting brings an unlikely solace to many people who feel like their emotions have been ignored and ridiculed in these times.

Jacques-Louis David’s 1789 painting, “The Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of His Sons” at first glance might seem like it bolsters stereotypes of women having overexaggerated emotions. The painting depicts one of the first Roman consuls sitting in the shadows as his officers bring in the corpses of his two sons who he executed for treason. The painting was created as propaganda for sacrifice during the French Revolution.

But even though this is what the meaning is shown to be, many are convinced there is another meaning to this painting. Many people can’t help thinking of women in real life, like the grieving mothers of shooting victims. Like those in “The Lictors,” the women are the ones doing the protecting in a different way: by bearing the emotional burden for everyone else.

The painting also tells a story about the body through the motions of the women. The story comes from everything, from the biceps of the servant in the corner, painting the grief weight she has lifted before, to Brutus’s brows and his struggle to maintain a numbness in feeling.

Then there are the three women to the right: the youngest daughter, fainting at the sight of the corpses of their brothers, her sister holding her, and their mother lunging toward her dead sons.

All of these scenes, while set in a completely different time, describe some of the feelings people have in this time when freedom is restricted.

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