Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jacques- Louis David - The Death of Socrates

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
From the Metropolitan Museum Catalog Entry: 

The great history painter and portraitist Jacques Louis David was the pupil of Joseph Marie Vien (1716–1809) and then in 1766 entered the school of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Having won the Prix de Rome in 1774, he traveled to Italy with Vien, an early exponent of neoclassicism and the newly appointed director of the French Academy there. In the Italian capital, David followed a traditional course, drawing from the antique, from models, and from nature, and studying contemporary and earlier painting. He made innumerable studies that attest to his passionate interest in antiquity and in the sculptural style of painting espoused in the seventeenth century by the Romanist Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), whose successor he became.

David returned to Paris in 1780 and the next year was received as a candidate member of the Académie, presenting Belisarius Begging Alms (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille), a history painting praised for its nobility of spirit. His reception piece, submitted in 1783, was the starkly heroic Grieving Andromache (École Nationale Supérieur des Beaux-Arts, Paris). Moralizing themes were immensely popular in the tumultuous years preceding the French revolution and many painters essayed The Death of Socrates, but none with the success of David. From its first exhibition at the Salon of 1787, the canvas has been admired for the clarity and force of its composition and the purity of its sentiment.

In 399 B.C., having been accused by the Athenian government of impiety and of corrupting young people with his teachings, the philosopher Socrates was tried, found guilty, and offered the choice of renouncing his beliefs or drinking the cup of hemlock. He died willingly for the principles he held dear. Here he gestures toward the cup, points toward the heavens, and discourses on the immortality of the soul. The picture, with its stoic theme, has been described as David’s most perfect neoclassical statement.

The artist consulted Plato’s "Phaedo" and a variety of sources including Diderot’s treatise on dramatic poetry and works by the poet André Chenier. The pose of Plato, the figure seated in profile at the foot of the bed (who was not actually present at the scene), was reportedly inspired by the English novelist Richardson. The printmaker and publisher John Boydell, writing to Sir Joshua Reynolds, called The Death of Socrates "the greatest effort of art since the Sistine Chapel and the stanze of Raphael," further observing that the painting "would have done honour to Athens at the time of Pericles." 


  1. I like this painting, but you should have more text on the importance of the painting, not just about David himself.

  2. Also, there are some people who want to know more about the painting and not about David, you should make a whole different page for the biography because everytime I click on one of the paintings for information, I geet his biography and I don't want that.

  3. Hi Amber and Welcome to Sedef's Corner,

    Of course this painting deserves a lot more information since it is one of the vital paintings of such a crucial time in history.
    I will keep your feedback in mind and try to provide more pertinent information in the future.

    Thanks for the feedback...



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