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The Death of Socrates

Jean-François Pierre PeyronEither 1786 or 1787

SMK - Statens Museum for Kunst

SMK - Statens Museum for Kunst

At the Salon, the exhibition held by the French monarchs at the Louvre, two leading – and competing – artists both submitted a painting of this theme in 1787.

Most agreed that Peyron suffered defeat at the hands of his competitor, J.L. David (1748-1825), but even so Peyron’s picture became a principal work within French pre-revolution art.

Motif

Peyron was a favourite of the monarch’s regime, and this work was commissioned by the king’s Minister for Culture. And indeed the powers that be had little cause to be offended at the scene depicted; democratic Athens committing judicial murder with the death of the philosopher Socrates.

Socrates dies a hero’s death, for just before he drinks the deadly draught of hemlock he speaks to his students of the immortality of the soul, and with his steadfast devotion to the teacher’s calling he constitutes an exemplum virtutis, a paragon of virtue – a frequently seen theme in the art of the period.

Composition

The composition meets the standards prevalent at the time with its relief-like arrangement of the space and figures: The back wall of the room runs parallel to the surface of the picture, and all characters are viewed from the front or in profile. This corresponds to the composition used in David’s painting, which was hung at the Salon after some delay and attracted a great deal of attention there. In an attempt at avoiding comparisons with his rival, Peyron held back his own painting and only put it on display during the last few days of the exhibition period.

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  • Title: The Death of Socrates
  • Creator: Jean Francois Pierre Peyron
  • Date Created: Either 1786 or 1787
  • Værktekst: På den franske enevældes udstilling i Louvre, Salonen, udstillede to førende og konkurrerende kunstnere i 1787 hver især et maleri med dette motiv. Peyron løb efter de flestes mening ind i et nederlag til sin konkurrent, J.L. David (1748-1825), med sit billede, som dog alligevel blev et hovedværk i kunsten før den franske revolution. Motiv Peyron blev favoriseret af enevoldsregimet, og værket blev bestilt af kongens kulturminister. Magthaverne har da næppe heller haft grund til at tage anstød af billedets tema, det demokratiske Athens justitsmord på filosoffen Sokrates. Sokrates dør en heltedød, for umiddelbart før han drikker den dræbende skarntydesaft, holder han en tale for sine elever om sjælens udødelighed, og med sin standhaftige udøvelse af lærergerningen udgør han et exemplum virtutis, et dydseksempel, som periodens kunst fremviser adskillige af. Komposition Kompositionen lever op til datidige krav om en relieflignende anordning af rum og figurer: Rummets bagvæg løber parallelt med billedfladen, og de optrædende ses frontalt eller i profil. Den svarer til kompositionsformen i Davids maleri, som med en vis forsinkelse blev ophængt på Salonen og vakte opsigt. I et forsøg på at undgå sammenligning med rivalen, ventede Peyron med at vise sit eget maleri indtil de sidste få dage af udstillingsperioden.
  • Teknik: Olie på lærred
  • Proveniens: Erhvervet 1979
  • Provenance: Acquired 1979
  • Physical Dimensions: w133.5 x h98 cm (Without frame)
  • Dansk link: http://www.smk.dk/index.php?id=2674
  • Dansk Titel: Sokrates' død i fængslet
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Statens Museum for Kunst, http://www.smk.dk/en/copyright/creative-commons/
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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