The Death of Socrates Painting

who was jacques-louis david?

David studied at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, where he won a Prix de Rome, which allowed him to study art in Rome for several years.

historical context

It is believed that The Death of Socrates was commissioned by either Charles-Louis or Charles-Michel Trudaine de la Sablière in 1786.

who was socrates?

Socrates was an ancient Athenian philosopher and widely known as the “founding father of Western philosophy”. He reportedly expressed these ideals and beliefs through oration.

formal analysis of the artwork

subject matter

The Death of Socrates painting depicts a gray-walled prison cell with ten men who all appear in anguished emotional states. The central figure of Socrates is sitting on his bed.


David utilized a “muted” color palette in The Death of Socrates painting. We see various hues of reds, blues, and golden yellows, which create contrast in cooler and warmer colors.


In The Death of Socrates, we see the smooth surface texture of the paint as well as the implied textures on the soft folds from the clothing, which is contrasted with the hardness of the stone wall and floor.


There are various lines in The Death of Socrates painting; for example, the diagonal line created on the wall by the light source from the left creates emphasis and directs our gaze to the central figure.

shape & form

There is an interplay of shapes and forms; the figures appear organic and naturalistic in their forms, which contrast with the other more linear and geometric shapes of the prison cell’s rectangular bricks that compose the wall and floor.


David created an emotionally-heightened space by placing the figures in the shallow foreground – the wall behind the figures brings them into the foreground and almost into our, the viewers, space.