Leonidas at Thermopylae

Artist: Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels)

Date: ca. 1814

Medium: Black chalk, squared in black chalk

Dimensions: 16 x 21 5/8 in. (40.6 x 54.9 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1963

Accession Number: 63.1


This is a compositional study for David's large canvas of the same subject, signed and dated 1814 and today in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. The drawing was executed in two distinct stages, offering a view into the artist's creative process. Over a detailed, lightly sketched composition David reworked the sheet in a darker, more emphatic black chalk, refining and simplifying the landscape and figures, especially on the right side. Leonidas, leader of the Spartan troops, is shown calm and unwavering as his men prepare to battle the Persians at the pass of Thermopylae. Many of the poses and figural types used by David refer to classical prototypes, as does the practice—debated during David's time—of depicting classical warriors nude.