“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.


  • Title: The Symposium (Second Version)
  • Creator: Anselm Feuerbach
  • Date Created: 1871 - 1873/74
  • Physical Dimensions: w750.0 x h400.0 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Technique and material: Oil on canvas
  • Inv.-No.: A I 279
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-815114
  • External link: Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Prestel Verlag / Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, http://www.bpk-images.de
  • Collection: Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Artist biography: Anselm Feuerbach was a German painter and a prominent figure of Neoclassicist painting in the German 19th-century school. He started his formal education at the art schools of Düsseldorf and Munich, after which he initially went to Antwerp, serving as an apprentice under Gustave Wappers, and then to Paris, where he was a pupil of Thomas Couture. During this time he was deeply influenced by Gustave Delacroix, Gustave Courbet and other French artists. He also worked in several cities such as Venice, Rome and Vienna, where he studied the works of Michelangelo and Raphael which helped him to develop his individual artistic style. In the beginning, his compositions were of classical design and bore Romantic elements, but he later mainly depicted ancient subjects in soft colours. He is known for such artworks as 'Iphigenia' (1871) and 'The Symposium of Plato' (1873).
  • Artist Place of Death: Venice, Italy
  • Artist Place of Birth: Speyer, Germany
  • Artist Dates: 1829-09-12/1880-01-04

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The Symposium (Second Version)

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