Leonidas at Thermopylae

Jacques Louis David French

Not on view

As his commissions for Napoleon dried up, David returned to a mythological painting he had begun planning fifteen years earlier as a pendant (pairing) to the Intervention of the Sabine Women. It depicts the legendary Spartan king Leonidas, who would perish with three hundred soldiers at Thermopylae, where they were vastly outnumbered by the Persian army of Xerxes.

In this working drawing, the artist’s evolving ideas appear laid down in a rush, perhaps intermittently, progressing from a pale initial sketch to emphatic revisions in a darker shade. Seemingly oblivious to the tumult swirling around him, Leonidas maintains a statuesque stillness, lost in contemplation of his soldiers’ impending sacrifice.

Leonidas at Thermopylae, Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels), Black chalk; squared in black chalk

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