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The Death of Socrates

Jacques Louis David French

Not on view

In the early 1780s, David would often brainstorm ideas for paintings without a specific commission in mind. Here, he depicts Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher convicted of "impiety" against the traditional religion by the Athenian courts. Rather than renounce his beliefs, Socrates prepares to drink the poison hemlock, but pauses to address his distressed disciples.

The drawing is a layered construction, worked with apparent urgency and revealing a sequence of ideas and revisions. Even after sketching the figures in black chalk and modeling them in gray wash, David reduced the size of the doorway in the angled wall and altered the pose and scale of the seated figure holding the book, in both cases by pasting irregularly shaped pieces of paper onto the sheet and redrawing those areas.

The Death of Socrates, Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels), Black chalk, brush and gray wash, touches of pen and black and brown ink, with two irregularly shaped fragments of paper affixed to the sheet and a strip added along the upper margin

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