DAVID, Jacques-Louis
(b. 1748, Paris, d. 1825, Bruxelles)

The Death of Socrates

Oil on canvas, 130 x 196 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

At the approach of the French Revolution, when Greek and Roman civic virtues were extolled as salutary antidotes to the degeneracy of the Old Regime, David triumphed at the Salon with a succession of works, including this one, that gave clear expression to the moral and philosophical principles of his time. Socrates was accused by the Athenian government of impiety and corrupting the young through his teachings; he was offered the choice of renouncing his beliefs or being sentenced to death for treason. Faithful to his convictions and obedient to the law, Socrates chose to accept his sentence. Here Socrates reaches for the cup of poisonous hemlock while he discourses on the immortality of the soul. The Death of Socrates became a symbol of republican virtue and was a manifesto of the Neoclassical style.