The Death of Socrates

Jacques Louis David French

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 634

In this landmark of neoclassical painting from just before the French Revolution, David took up a classical story of resisting unjust authority in a sparse, friezelike composition. The Greek philosopher Socrates (469–399 BCE) was convicted of impiety by the Athenian courts; rather than renounce his beliefs, he died willingly, expounding on the immortality of the soul before drinking poisonous hemlock. Through a network of gestures and expressions, David’s figures act out the last moments of Socrates’s life. He is about to grasp the cup of hemlock, offered by a disciple who cannot bear to witness the event. David consulted antiquarian scholars to create an archeologically exacting image, including details of furniture and clothing. His inclusion of Plato at the foot of the bed, however, deliberately references not someone present at Socrates’s death but rather the author whose text, Phaedo, preserved this ancient story.

#5184. The Death of Socrates

Buy a print

Custom framed to suit your space

The Death of Socrates, Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels), Oil on canvas

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.