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“Death of Socrates” a Painting by Jacques-Louis David Essay

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Updated: May 30th, 2020

Introduction

The neoclassical painting Death of Socrates was painted in 1787 by Jacques-Louis David to shed light on events that might have happened during the death of Socrates. The painting belongs to the Neoclassical Arts. Neoclassical Arts were influenced by the French revolution between 1780 and 1799. Death of Socrates draws inspiration from the classical form of arts and culture of the ancient Greeks. Paintings of the neoclassical era are associated with the use of different colors and styles, and combining those with idealistic styles. David became a successful painter by merging drama and forcefulness with romantic or idealistic styles.

During the Neoclassical Era, especially during the French revolution, artists like David created paintings with a number of characteristics such as, for example, a central perspective perpendicular to the plane of the picture, which is applied in Death of Socrates as well. In addition, the picture was made emphatic by including a dim arcade on the background.

Choice Of Topic

David chose the topic of the death of Socrates in his painting as a way of showing the way the Greek philosophers expressed their ideas. In his work, David attempts to condemn brutal acts of the law, as well as political and social leaders in France. David chose this topic to condemn dictatorial leadership in France. The scenes of the prison and the emotions of the students in this picture refer to the memories of the abandoned attempts of reform in France, especially the 1787 dissolution of the Assembly of Notables. In addition, a large number of political prisoners in the French jails and the massive numbers of exiles were condemned in this picture. David rebukes the cringing souls in prisons and those in exile. David also insisted on painting his pictures in Rome rather than in France as a way of condemning poor leadership in the Roman Catholic. In fact, the panting is considered as one of the most influential works of art during the French revolution

The Relationship Between Death And Philosophy

Socrates was accused of denying Athenian gods, and corrupting the youth with his philosophical ideas. In this picture, David attempts to show how philosophers accepted death and the feelings that surrounded their students. Socrates appears to be calm and less stricken with grief or fear unlike his students. The painter depicts Socrates as calmly talking on the immortality of his soul. The painting attempts to show the solid principles of the philosophers, who would choose death rather than renounce their beliefs. Socrates was given the choice of renouncing his thoughts and teachings, or be punished by death. He chose death rather than renouncing his teachings, which highlights the solid principles of the philosophers, and the work in denouncing the beliefs they considered untrue. Socrates continues to speak out his ideas to his students while reaching for the cup.

This demonstrates the philosophy’s disregard to death and the consistent commitment to philosophical ideas. Plato and Crito, who were philosophers and students of Socartes, are depicted as the ones who control their emotions. However, his students and slaves are stricken with fear and grief, which demonstrates their weakness of emotionalism. Looking at Socrates in his final moments, one realizes a close relationship between him and death. He appears to appreciate death as a common phenomenon in the life of man. His philosophical ideas consisted in the fact that death like birth is a part of human life, and one has to accept it.

Color As A Determining Factor On The Content Of Painting

David’s artistic style is characterized by the use of color, light and dark, lines, costumes and figures. However, in this picture the use of color is the most impressive artistic style. David has used both bright and dim colors to show the differences between regions of the picture. In the foreground, brighter colors are used to show the characters. The garments worn by Plato and Crito are brighter than those worn by the students. David has used red and blue colors to show the differences between the other students as well as Plato and Crito. In addition, the clothes worn by Socrates are white and brighter than the bluish clothes his students are wearing or the reddish clothes worn by Crito and Plato. David used this difference in color to describe the possible differences of the philosophical knowledge between Socrates and his students.

In the background, dim color is used to show the walls of the room and the outlets from the prison. Socrates’ wife is shown leaving, but it is difficult to trace her feelings because she is painted with dark colors. This is probably a sign of grief that she experienced along with her inability to withstand the scenes of her husband’s death. The room is quite dark as shown by the walls surrounding the characters. David used dark colors for the room as a way of describing the conditions of the Greek prisons, as well as condemning the massive imprisonment during the French revolution.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""Death of Socrates" a Painting by Jacques-Louis David." May 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/death-of-socrates-a-painting-by-jacques-louis-david/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"Death of Socrates" a Painting by Jacques-Louis David'. 30 May.

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