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kottke.org posts about Jacques-Louis David

Understanding Art: The Death of Socrates

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2015

From Evan Puschak, aka The Nerdwriter, comes an entertaining analysis of Jacques-Louis David’s neoclassical masterpiece, The Death of Socrates.

The Death of Socrates is on display at the Met here in NYC. From the Met’s catalogue entry:

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.”

Here’s a bigger view of the painting, which you’ll want to pore over once you’ve watched the video. (via ★interesting)