Jacques-Louis David's, "The Death of Socrates"

Essay by nirvana2University, Bachelor's March 2006

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"The Death of Socrates" done by Jacque-Louis David in 1787 is one of many monumental paintings of the 18th century. However it can be classed as one of the most unique for its iconological value and intrinsic meaning. With notable influences from neoclassical style and the enlightenment, as well as the way in which Socrates is portrayed, we receive a specific image of David's beliefs and the cultural and political atmosphere of the time.

During the 18th century, the artistic approach for most artists was the use of famous literary works and events in history as inspiration for their paintings. This neoclassical style was based on reality, and many artists found that it was all too much the same.(Monneret 47) Jacque-Louis David approached this problem with a craving to be unique, and he took the neoclassical style and added more meaning to it.(Crow 26) He focused on famous literary works based around death, commonly of political figures.

Many of these "death paintings" included "Marat at His Last Breath", 1793, and "The Death of Bara", 1793. (Maleuvre 13, 14) Both of which were paintings of martyrs. He focused more on the beliefs, the ideas and the context surrounding the subject of the work rather than just the depiction of a monumental event. (Bordes 82) In another "death painting", "The Death of Socrates", done 1787, David did something a bit different. Oddly enough, he painted his subject alive, the moment before his death, instead of his usual post-mortem depiction. He did this because he wanted to focus on Socrates' belief of immortality.(Burroughs 142) Jacque-Louis David used the literary work of Plato's Phaedo, which was Plato's account of the last moments of the life of Socrates. Socrates was sentence to exile or death by the Athenian...