Behind The Death of Socrates By Katherine Willmore
At the largest art museum in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum also known as the Met located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, lies one out 2,500 known European paintings by Jacques-Louis David. Jacques-Louis David was known as a Painter and Lithographer (someone who prints using oil and water), his most known and famous works include ?The Death of Marat’ and ?Napoleon Crossing the Alps.’ Jacques-Louis David is considered the leading neoclassical artist of the late 18th century, whose style developed toward romanticism in the later years of his life (figure 1). David worked in Paris through the French Revolution and then forged a career in the early 19th century with the patronage of Napoleon.
Stylistically, his early work depends on the first generation of neoclassicists in Rome and in England, but his paintings then evolved toward the depiction of progressive social ideals formed as didactic classical narratives (Palmer, 77).
This report will examine one of his other well-known paintings, The Death of Socrates (figure 2). You can spot his neoclassical painting in gallery 631 in the ?European Paintings, 1250-1800′ section of the museum (figure 3). It was created in 1787, using oil on canvas, and as the title suggests; shows Socrates, the heretical teacher, and philosopher ready to die for his beliefs. By his desire and poison as an escape from the confinements of Athens. I was informed in English 101, that Socrates believed in questioning a belief like answering a question with another question. The concept isn’t to reply to a question by responding with a single answer but, to respond by inquiring more questions. The syllogism is a technique that requires the pupil to question personal beliefs through answering the questions of the teacher. The pupil must first state a position in respect of some ethical concern, which is one that cannot be settled by an immediate objective test and is subjective. Socrates then poses supplementary questions that the pupil is required to answer by either an affirmative or a negative response. Socrates guides the dialogue until the pupil is obliged to come to the opposite of his or her original statement.
Socrates uses this technique both as a philosophical tool, with which he develops knowledge by adding premises to those already existing and thereby developing the argument, while also claiming that he had no real knowledge of any sort, which could be demonstrated by the same method (Walsh,1). Eventually, this granted him backlash from those closedminded. Socrates received backlash from those who believed that there is only one truth or moral guidelines. However, it wasn’t just because he was a natural philosopher and nonconformist that questioned many things. Listed in Apology by Plato, the reasons were for: Corrupting the young, not believing in the gods of the city, his examination of the Athenians; and lastly his Ignorance. So why did Jacques-Louis David paint this painting? What was the message he was trying to get across? Well, The Death of Socrates was commissioned by the Trudaine de Montigny brothers (figure 4). Two radical political reformers who promoted a free market system during the French Revolution. The painting was propaganda, most likely a nod to what the brothers were doing at the time, and a way to encourage them to stand tall and not be chased away from their beliefs like a coward like Socrates did the day of his death.
The painter Jacques-Louis David also frequented the salon held by the Trudaine brothers in their h??tel in Paris, and it was there that he reflected on topics surrounding his monumental Oath of the Horatii 1784; Paris, Louvre). He also painted the Death of Socrates (1787; New York, Met.) for Charles-Michel and a portrait of Charles-Louis’s wife, Marie-Jos??phe-Louise de Courbeton (unfinished; Paris, Louvre) (Hellyer, 1). Jacques-Louis David went on to create more paintings for them until the brothers were arrested in 1794 and David refused to support them. After having knowledge about Socrates prior and coming upon this painting once again, I was incredibly interested in venturing more into the painting, story, and artist himself. Researching the piece, I found an amount of history and little things that could be interpreted in any form. I recommend everyone to visit this beautiful piece, research, and explore it.
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