The Death of Socrates, Jacques-Louis David, 1787

"The death of Socrates, Jacques Louis David, one thousand seven hundred eighty seven

Description of the picture:

The death of Socrates – Jacques-Louis David. 1787. Oil on canvas. 129.5×196.2

The catchy representative of French classicism, Jacques-Louis David, often chose for his own paintings scenes from ancient history, which became close to him after his stay in Italy.

In this picture, Socrates, ready to drink a cup of poison by the verdict of the court, addresses the students with farewell words. The philosopher raised his hand, and held out the other toward the bowl. His gesture, when a hand is about to touch a vessel with a deadly drink, but still does not touch it, hanging in the air, is the main one, as it makes the memory of a stopped time. As a result, no matter how the followers of Socrates were tormented, the death was defeated, since the teacher himself, who was carried away by what he uttered to his followers and left behind, forgot about it.

The theme of the immortality of the human spirit is emphasized by the grandeur of the depicted people, expressed in their movements and faces, restrained by the monochrome color of the canvas and the whole composition: the placement of the characters along the frontal plane of the picture recalls the frieze, which assigns solemnity to the whole scene. The engraving artist John Boydel exaltedly wrote to the British portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds that David’s work was “the greatest achievement in art after the Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo and Stanz Raphael … This work would have done honor to Athens in the time of Pericles.”

David intended to write this painting when the revolution in France was already close. The aim of his work was to strengthen the spirit of citizens by an example of Socratic resilience."

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