The Death of Socrates: How To Read A Painting


this is the death of Socrates by jacques-louis daveed completed in 1787 it is an exemplar of the neoclassical period in France which de’vide virtually created and brought to the fore himself before I say more it’s important to note just how striking this canvas is not knowing anything about it so much jumps out at me right away the clarity of the scene the fierce gesture of the man in the middle the interplay of the chalice and the hand that reaches for it the angles of the light and the men the soft draping garments the bare flat stone wall as the title suggests the scene depicts the death of Socrates told famously by Plato in his dialogue on the soul the Phaedo Socrates had been convicted in Athenian court of failing to acknowledge the gods of the city and corrupting the city’s youth and sentenced to death by drinking hemlock as Plato makes clear in another dialogue the Crito Socrates could have escaped into exile but instead he chooses to die taking the opportunity to teach his final lesson that death is not to be feared by the philosopher but embraced as an apotheosis of the soul Davi chooses to paint the moment just as Socrates is grabbing for the poisoned draught he’s been discussing at length the immortality of the soul and doesn’t even seem to care that he’s about to take the implement of his death in hand on the contrary Socrates is defiant gesturing toward the afterlife to which he hastens devide idealizes him Socrates would have been 70 at the time and somewhat less muscular and beautiful than painted here the raking light coming in from the top-left pours onto Socrates the brightest figure in the tableau the colors muted at the sides become vivid in the center with the executioner in red and Socrates and white for devide Socrates is a symbol of strength over passion of stoic commitment to an abstract principle even in the face of death this is the ethical message daveed sought to offer the French two years for the French Revolution as the monarchy was in decline and reformers ache to install a democracy akin to that of Socrates own time in Greek antiquity or of the United States which had just executed its own revolution five years prior indeed Thomas Jefferson himself was present at the unveiling of this painting at the salon of 1787 the image commissioned by two radical political reformers was wildly popular daveed had already made his name with another severe moralistic canvass the oath of the Horatio which effectively invented the neoclassical style taking its cues from the stark simplicity of ancient Greece and Rome from the ancient obsession with anatomy and musculature from the two-dimensional freezes depicting historical events neoclassicism as rendered by devii made its points strongly and severely this was in direct opposition to the dominant Rococo style that reflected the ornate and hedonistic lifestyles of the monarchy in the hooray she I as in the death of Socrates those dedicated to principle are depicted with angular geometry while those ruled by passion are curved and weak in both canvases the backgrounds are flat fixing attention on the foreground we’re like a freeze the action can be read from side to side one way to read the death of Socrates is right to left the anguish of Socrates followers curling and twisting opens up unto the calm expression of the man himself and flows down through his right arm which hovers over the cup of poison the space between the hand and the cup the exact centre of the image is the seat of maximum narrative charge then it falls back into the pain of the man who delivers the poison who turns his gaze away from Socrates and finally comes to rest on the man sitting at the foot of the bed unengaged we’re on him in a moment Dawid doesn’t identify anyone in the painting but we can infer from accounts of Socrates actual death that in the background is Socrates wife is antha P led away in distress and clutching Socrates leg is cryto his oldest and most faithful student under credo we can see that daveed has signed his own name signaling a feeling of connection with the man daveed weaker than his ideal of moral strength nonetheless grabs and strives toward the painter has taken a number of liberties with history besides altering Socrates face and physique the vidi creases the number of people present at the event from over 15 to 12 echoing the number of disciples at da Vinci’s Last Supper but I think the most significant change is the addition of the character at the foot of the bed this is Plato the man who popularized Socrates teachings by staging him as the protagonists in over 30 philosophical dialogues but simply without Plato there would be no Socrates the two men melt into each other historically it’s hard to determine where Socrates philosophy ends and Plato’s begins not only was Plato absent at the death of Socrates but he was a young man at the time here de’vide has him as old and withdrawn I said earlier that you can read the canvas from right to left but you can also read it from left to right the whole scene it seems to me appears to explode out of the back of Plato’s head recontextualizing it as a memory and idealize memory in which Socrates gestures in the exact same way he does in Raphael’s School of Athens significantly Plato is positioned apart from the flat background where the frozen lateral moment gives way to the depth of time and reality it strikes me that this is the way memories often fall out restaged with smooth edges and perfect light two-dimensional idealize painstakingly arranged to serve the needs of the present in the character of Plato the rigorous ethical reality of the scene is betrayed by its own self-awareness as a construction and in only a few short years the noble ideals of the French Revolution will be betrayed as well by the terror that is to follow maybe this is why almost prophetically daveed signs his name here a second time neoclassicism like this may seem severe and blunt but so much is happening in dahveed’s death of Socrates an interplay of historical personal political and aesthetic elements rendered forcefully subtly and beautifully put another way it’s a work of genius hey everybody if you want to help me keep making these videos and support the nerdwriter you can visit my patreon page by clicking here you can pledge as little as one dollar everything helps thank you so much here’s some more videos

100 thoughts on “The Death of Socrates: How To Read A Painting

  1. if someone ask me to explain this ill simply say a guy drinking a cup of wine

  2. I also noticed how Plato’s head is supposed to be the focal point of the “camera,” as all perspective lines originate from there.
    If the chalice were the focal point, and this scene were recreated and photographed, we wouldn’t even see the right side wall of the tunnel: it would be tucked behind, and obscured.
    The only way to recreate this image in real life would be to use a Plato’s head in the center, with the equivalent amount of space on the left as the right (where Socrates and his followers are,) and then crop the left side out.

  3. People don't fight over what they know, they fight over what they don't know.

    Actually you ought to buy my dinner for educating you….

  4. How do we know the figure is plato? Am I missing symbolism or did the artist state the fact that it's plato? Thanks for the lesson!

  5. In 1787 how many people were literate? Telling us how to "read" a painting when we can just "read" Socrates is retarded. What happen to experiencing things and interrupting for yourself? T.V. rules all you fools in the land of trump, who needs to think for themselves?

  6. What if he is just asking for one more drink and raising his hand to say. Lets partyy. People are upset coz he is drinking too much?

  7. Well, i'd keep it short. This is the causal chain, when comfronted with death, which may even be demanded (center).
    Right side: getaway – disbelieve – sadness – recognition – sympathy
    Left side: acceptance – despair – reminiscent desolation
    When you have gone through all, you can wave goodbye and leave this as past with the left ones you have.

    It is kind of like todays divorces. 😉

  8. @ 5:45 ! (Huge point – of the 3 Main Statements – possibly 1st)

    Clearly the Artist was both of their "Plato" as well.

  9. Now.. do this same kind of analysis on a white painting. Because as the artists themselves say, there is an endless sea of emotion in the lines of white paint.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing. Even though I hated art in school, I've always interested in it and want to understand it or at least have a better glimpse into it, so your video is do just that in a very interesting way.

  11. I used to mock Socrates for arguing himself to death. As I’ve grown older all I have is admiration for Socrates.

  12. The closer you are to the truth the tighter the rope around your neck.

  13. I did not think a simple picture has such deep meaning but hard to understand…..

  14. Saw the original at the Met in '81. Much smaller than one would think. One cool detail: in the far distance the last person ascending the stairs looks back toward us with a stricken face identical to the classical tragic mask.

  15. "How to understand art." 😂😂😂 If it has to be explained to you, it's NOT good art. 🙄

  16. I still want to hear directly from the artist "yep, these are al my intentions", i still feel like we are reading too much into paintings

  17. wow you just changed my whole thinking about art i never really took any interest in these things and always thought they're boring but damnnnn that was sooo deep thank you 🙂

  18. people in the comments just cant stop making jokes and begging for likes even in videos like these, its sad sometimes

  19. There is need of in depth knowledge of history to read the painting in a just way

  20. Bruh i dont understand the art of reading art. Splash paint on a piece of paper and everyone will look at it differently. I think the art of reading a picture is entirely depended on your own perspective and experience, maybe reading a paint can say a lot about a person more than you would expect. Its all perspective. offcourse there are somethings wich overlap that everyone can get at.

  21. "How to Read a Painting" (no need to capitalise the "a"), was 10-15% reading of this painting, and the rest a history lesson on the death of Socrates. What you have done is to describe the knowledge and genius of David, having been able to inscribe so much historical content into one still frame.
    Whilst the actual readings of the painting as a painting were brief, I enjoyed the readings of this painting. Nevertheless this was not a "how to…" video.
    I hope you referenced Will Durant for your words on the links between Plato and Socrates (5:18). Couple of phrases there almost verbatim from his book, The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time.
    Also you may have it wrong about the person handing the hemlock to Socrates. It is more likely from the clothes and their positioning, his gesture and apparent age in contrast to all others, that he is Socrates' boy…if you know what I mean.
    Your reading from the back of Plato's head as a projection of memory – I'm sold! Loved that reading.

    Although it could be Larry David is on the box at the foot of the bed, not Plato. L.D.

  22. I thought this was gonna be some bullshit video where someone who finnished school is pretending to know something and says some smart things that dont make any sense. Thank Goodness I was wrong 🙂

  23. I love that idea of a dream or memory of Plato, thank you for the insight!

  24. As I thought, a painting is completely opaque to me unless a great deal of effort is maid to research said painting.

  25. Plato seems be the flatist of them all. This painting maybe really about Plato.

  26. how to read when someone is all sham no lol, he articulates alot. sees great depth in stuff, talks about complexity.

  27. Artworks like this are the reason why ordinary people reject modern art. We don't want the likes of Pollock's splatter being compared with this.

  28. So… I now need to look into the connection this guy "David" (Willing to bet that is not his real name) has to Adam Weisshaupt and The Illuminati…

  29. Socrates of course immediately regretted his pig headed stubbornness and idealism once the raw, inescapable suffering began. Death by hemlock can apparently take hours. Symptoms are seizures, rapid heart rate, frothing at the mouth, and respiratory distress. Death comes via a final, horribly long seizure.

  30. Wrong title. It's not "the death of Socrates". It's " the death of death"

  31. Perhaps… perhaps. ORRRR! Perhaps not… Perhaps not. That is the question isn't it? Wait, I think I might be onto something hear…. My interpretation is that socks (as they once called him) was saying ,"up yours!" And as he pointed upward ol' socks was mimicking shooting a fowl later the middle finger was used and it was called "shooting a bird" and still, to this very day means, "hey guy, up yours! " IT WAS later misinterpreted as, "sit & spin." Sorry to bust your bubble mister nerd.

  32. Socrates has a female skeletan and enjoys throwing satanic hand gestures;

    she's a WITCH

  33. I am astounded that you failed to mention the shackles at Socrates' feet beneath the bed as if to declare that death is about to free him from the shackles of the governments of men.

  34. This is not a "how to read a painting", this is "dude who read up on the thing gushes over a thing"

  35. I feel your video has a great impact on the legacy of Jacques-Louis David. Truly.

  36. David: *puts signature on Crito's seat* hell yeah i can totally make my name look like a cool engraving on this chair

    Nerdwriter: It's because he connects with Crito

  37. I what i see in the painting is that everyone is face palming.
    Socrates: I will drink this hemlock and die!
    The rest, including the one who gave the hemlock: *face palms

  38. Будем друзьями? давай подписиваться=) что вас вдохновляет

  39. 2:10 oh so that explains how they used to store stuff in ancient times. It's so simple they just had 1 extra hand for holding more stuff. Genius.

  40. does anyone know what is engraved in the stone that Crito sits, the drawing not his signature

  41. how to read a painting : pretend you're understanding anything at all, and pretend you appreciate the colored thing, so the rest think u're the shit, or something. ,,,, how far got humans….

  42. That was the best analysis of a piece of art I’ve ever heard. Absolutely gripping from beginning to end!

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