“Agathon’s friends have gathered in his house in order to celebrate his winning the prize as the best writer of tragedies... While they indulge after the meal in witty and high-spirited exchanges about Eros, the mightiest and most splendid of the gods, an intoxicated and euphoric Alcibiades appears, returning with a bacchic retinue from another feast. He has come to crown the poet, who welcomes him as a friend.” This was how Henriette Feuerbach described the work’s theme which was taken from Plato’s philosophical dialogue, The Symposium. But the real focus of the composition is Socrates, as he quietly turns away from the scene. The tension between sensual pleasure and philosophical speculation is clearly demonstrated in the contrast between the two halves of the picture. Crowned with a laurel wreath, the host stands in the center, uncertainly linking the two. A late manifesto of classical German ideals of culture, a design for an epoch — the apogee of Greek culture — and a subjective confession, an example of monumental art that can only find a home in a museum: The Symposium occupied Feuerbach for twenty years. After his original idea from 1854, the composition must have existed in broad outline by 1860. Five years later, a large colour sketch was finished; the first large-scale version took from 1867 to 1869 (Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle). Reactions were divided: people were put off by its cool colours as much as by the “ugly” realism of the figures. The second version which Feuerbach then embarked on is much richer in its emphatically Gründerzeit (the decades after 1870) neo-Baroque architecture, decorative detail, and costume. The garland of flowers carried by the children is an addition and is echoed in the garlands of fruit on the painted frame which was also added at this stage. However, the new motifs are not there simply to enrich the effect, for they are all symbolic of ancient traditions of making offerings, with specific reference to the cult of Dionysus, and underline the work’s various allusions to the Dionysian. These are concentrated in the figure of Alcibiades, with whom Feuerbach himself identified. The contrast of Alcibiades’ vitality and Agathon’s formal, spiritual appearance portrays the inner conflict suffered by the artist, by art, and by civilization as a whole.