The Death of Socrates
Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748-1825)
Oil on canvas; 51 x 77 1/4 in. (129.5 x 196.2 cm)
Accused by the Athenian government of denying the gods and corrupting the young through his teachings, Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.) was offered the choice of renouncing his beliefs or being sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. David shows him calmly discoursing on the immortality of the soul with his grief-stricken disciples. Painted in 1787 the picture, with its stoic theme, is perhaps David's most perfect Neoclassical statement. The printmaker and publisher John Boydell wrote to Sir Joshua Reynolds that it was "the greatest effort of art since the Sistine Chapel and the stanze of Raphael. . . . This work would have done honour to Athens at the time of Pericles." The subject is loosely based on Plato's "Phaedo," but in painting it David consulted a variety of sources, including Diderot's treatise on dramatic poetry of 1758 and works by the poet André Chenier. The pose of the figure at the foot of the bed was reportedly inspired by a passage in a novel by the English writer Richardson.
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1931 (31.45)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's permanent collection contains more than two million works of art from around the world. It opened its doors on February 20, 1872, housed in a building located at 681 Fifth Avenue in New York City. Under their guidance of John Taylor Johnston and George Palmer Putnam, the Met's holdings, initially consisting of a Roman stone sarcophagus and 174 mostly European paintings, quickly outgrew the available space. In 1873, occasioned by the Met's purchase of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot antiquities, the museum decamped from Fifth Avenue and took up residence at the Douglas Mansion on West 14th Street. However, these new accommodations were temporary; after negotiations with the city of New York, the Met acquired land on the east side of Central Park, where it built its permanent home, a red-brick Gothic Revival stone "mausoleum" designed by American architects Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mold. As of 2006, the Met measures almost a quarter mile long and occupies more than two million square feet, more than 20 times the size of the original 1880 building.
In 2007, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was ranked #17 on the AIA 150 America's Favorite Architecture list.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1967. The interior was designated in 1977.
National Historic Register #86003556