Module 3 Lecture_Death of Socrates_Jacques-Louis David

The websites here are not required for you to successfully complete the learning objectives for this module. These are additional sites that you can better learn about key works in Romantic, and Neoclassical art.

The artist Jacques-Louis David was interested in Greek geometry. I want to backtrack a bit to look at one of the heroes of the Neoclassical artists, Nicolas Poussin. Here is one of his very well known paintings, Rape of the Sabine Women:




If you draw a line from the left lower corner towards the upper right corner, and a line from the lower right corner to the upper left corner, you will see triangles. All the figures, and swords, and arms, and horses, line up with the geometry.

Of course in real life, with all of these men abducting women, and horses running around, and babies being dropped on the ground, no way everything lines up perfectly the way Poussin portrays the scene. 

Of course this isn’t real life, but art. In this painting, Poussin is interested in presenting us with order out of chaos. Even in a horrific scene, order can be imposed on this slice of life.

Now here is a famous painting by David, The Death of Socrates



David paints this real moment in history, with a similar interest in the same implied geometric shapes as we see in Poussin’s paintings. Even the cup of hemlock poison is a circle, along with the many rectangles in the floor. The Socrates finger points upward toward the triangular shadow on the wall, and many of the figures bend to blend into that central triangle.

The Greek philosopher was a geometry teacher, and like Pythagoras, was in the belief that there is a grand geometry at work in the universe.

This way of creating art is one of the central beliefs of the Neoclassical artists.