The circular effect | The Death of Socrates

Socrates, throughout his life, advocated for his strong beliefs and radical paradigm, which didn’t align well with those ruling the state. However, his life, belief systems, and leadership have inspired generations. The event marking the death of Socrates, depicted seamlessly by the French painter, revolutionised the thoughts of many and gave courage to the voices to be united and not fear suppression by the monarchy. Even after many centuries following his death, this painting brought forth the tangible thoughts of political reforms necessary to be revived and aligned with the revolution. This revolution was not only a major landmark in the history of France but inspired a lot of movements across the globe.

David’s illustration of The Tennis Court Oath_ ©Wikimedia commons


The Death of Socrates (La Mort De Socrate: French) is a famous Neo-classical piece of art by the French painter Jacques-Louis David and dates back to the year 1787. It was exhibited at the French salon in 1787. Socrates was a famous philosopher whose ideas about the era’s politics have inspired many from the classical era to  contemporary times. The subject of Socrates’ death is based on Phaedo, the account of Socrates’ death written by his disciple Plato highlighting the concept of immortality of soul. The painting depicts the historical event of the execution of Socrates. It is also famous for its symbolism in the history of the French about representation of the resistance movement in a sublime state. Thus, it significantly impacted the French revolution in its subsequent years for political reformation and movements.

Story behind the art-The Death of Socrates - Sheet1
The Death of Socrates by David_©Wikimedia commons

Concept notes and Popularity

Hailed as one of the masterpieces of the Neoclassical age in Europe, it came during a time when the people of France started questioning the monarchy and its ruler’s (Louis XVI) ways. The painting is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, since 1931. Socrates, a Greek philosopher, orated his political beliefs, which is also believed to mark the foundation of western philosophies in contemporary times. His ideas and thoughts are also reflected in the works of his successor Plato and Xenophon. Following the popularity of the painting, the interest in Socrates revived as him being an idol for his social, political and economic reforms. The painting is inspired by Plato’s accounts and description of the event where Socrates is blamed for invoking corruption, influencing the youth of Athens, and is sentenced to take poison by the ruling state. Part of the series of four written by Plato, accounting the life of Socrates in the preceding three parts, namely, Euthypro, Apology, and Crito, the final account culminates the events that led to his sentence, including his denial to renounce his belief or face exile. The painting gave life and tangible meaning to the concepts and philosophy of Socrates documented by Plato. Till his last breath, he made sure to convey his teachings and faced his death with conviction as he firmly believed that it was better to die with honour and dignity than let go of what he preached his entire life.

Story behind the art-The Death of Socrates - Sheet2
School of Athens by Raphael _©Wikimedia commons

Visual Analysis and storyboard | The Death of Socrates

The painting narrates the story of Socrates and the incident of his death where he was forced to take poison. Thus, the mood board follows a muted colour palette, depicting the tones of resentment, remorse, and pain. The painting is buffed from the edges, with light gleaming from Socrates himself as he takes the narrative’s focal point. Dressed in a white robe, the philosopher ascends to his deathbed and accepts the poison as he points out to the sky from the other hand, a concept seemed to be inspired by Raphael’s painting in the 16th century. His disciples are in dismay over the occurrence of the event, and thus, an array of emotions of distress is seen surrounding Socrates. In the backdrop, his wife, Xanthippe gives a last glance across the archway. Crito clutches to him during the poison consumption as Socrates remains calm. To the left of the painting, Plato who was not physically present during the death of Socrates is seen in a mourning state symbolic of the impact it had over the years on him.

Story behind the art-The Death of Socrates - Sheet3
The storyboard _©Wikimedia commons


The artwork, its reception and its study to date is a subsequent reminder that art has the potential to invoke thoughts and question the existing political state. It can lead to mass movements. Throughout history, humans have always looked towards art and related disciplines to find meaning in life. The movements such as the Renaissance helped people of Europe find inspiration, followed by the Dark ages. Similarly, neoclassicism also came at a time when leaders found a vocabulary through arts, and the civilians started questioning the existing systems and wanted reforms. Contrary to the event portrayed in the painting, Socrates remains immortal through his teachings and convictions.


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  2. Jones Josh (2017), What Makes The Death of Socrates a Great Work of Art?: A Thought-Provoking Reading of David’s Philosophical & Political Painting | Open Culture. [online] Available at:
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  4. Dillon, M., & Garland, L. (Eds.). (1999). Ancient Greece: Social and Historical Documents from Archaic Times to the Death of Socrates (2nd ed.). Routledge.
  5. Joy of Museums Virtual Tours. (n.d.). ‘The Death of Socrates’ by Jacques-Louis David. [online] Available at:
  6. Kirti, K. (2021). Reading the Painting — ‘The Death of Socrates’. [online] Medium. Available at:
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  8. Wilson, E.R. (2007). The death of Socrates. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Architect with over five years of experience in teaching, collaboration and research. She has taught undergraduate and postgraduate students in the interdisciplinary fields of architecture, construction and history. She has published several papers in the field of architecture, cultural heritage and pedagogy. Her research expertise is urban conservation, heritage management and cultural landscapes.