mona lisa smileLove reading analysis of famous paintings? Discover more about 250 of the best paintings in the history of art with the Famous Paintings ebook.  It names names (and titles, art museums, and dates), with links to in-depth commentary about the works.  Explore must-see masterpieces in US and European art museums! 


It'll make you smile. 

Famous Paintings Reviewed

Famous Paintings by Jacques Louis David

Posted by Susan Benford

Art paintings by Jacques Louis David (1748 - 1825) epitomize the loftiest aspirations of famous artwork... and their least savory uses as political propaganda.  Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in three famous paintings by Jacques Louis David: Death of Socrates, Death of Marat, and Napoleon Crossing the Alps.

david self portrait resized 600First some background on this famous painter.

He came of age during the era of King Louis XV and the Rococco style. Although Jacques-Louis David initially emulated the style of his distant relative, Francois Boucher, David's teacher, Joseph-Marie Vien, encouraged him to study classical art instead.  

Like many enticed by the Enlightenment's call for individuality, David rejected the "artificial taste" of the Rococo style and developed what came to be known as the Neoclassical style.

Jacques-Louis David, Self Portrait. Oil on canvas, 1794. Approximately 31" x 25". Louvre.

David's art paintings remains an unparalleled visual chronicle of the French Revolution, including the reign and fall of Napoleon I.  Despite his painting career, he was an active revolutionary who belonged to the Jacobins and voted for the execution of Louis XVI.

These "egalitarian democrats", under the leadership of Robespierre, dominated the Assembly during the Reign of Terror (1793-94), when 40,000 people were executed for allegedly resisting the Revolution. It is in this political climate - and David's intimacy with it - that he created three of his most famous paintings.

Death of Socrates

Here, David glorifies the individual as a self-sacrificing hero committed to country and family, making Death of Socrates a Neoclassical masterpiece and manifesto.

 david death of socrates resized 600

Death of Socrates. Oil on canvas, 1787.  4' 3" x 6' 5 1/4.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  

The hero, Socrates, was accused by the Athenian government of corruptly educating its youth. As recounted by Plato in "The Apology", Socrates was given the choice between permanent exile or death by forced drinking of poisonous hemlock.

True to his principles, Socrates opted for death. 

In Death of Socrates, he is passionately discusses the soul's immortality with his mourning disciples, teaching them to his final end. Socrates points with his left hand, perhaps suggesting a higher truth but unquestioningly referencing the portrayal of Plato in 

raphael school of athens resized 600

 Raphael. School of Athens (Philosophy). Fresco, 1509-1511. Approximately 19' x 27'.  Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican, Rome.

Raphael's School of Athens.

Death of Marat 

David painted Death of Marat in 1793, the year in which Louis XVI (a former patron) and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were beheaded by guillotine.  

david death of marat resized 600

This famous artwork - in my book, the finest portrayal of political martyrdom in the history of painting - is loaded with history and symbolism. 

Marat suffered from a skin ailment which was soothed only by soaking in the bathtub. 

It was here that Charlotte Corday, a supporter of the conservative, Girondin group, found Marat and stabbed him to death.  The kitchen knife she used is beside the tub in an ironic contrast with Marat's quill, juxtaposing violence with the power of the pen. Marat grasps the letter of introduction by which Corday gained access to him. 

The shabby wooden crate, intimating Marat's simple lifestyle, bears a personal and political message from David to the fallen hero: the painting is dedicated "A Marat, David" (To Marat, from David) and is dated "L'An Deux" (The Year Two, or the second year of the French Revolution). 

The composition of Death of Marat is one from classical art: Marat's pose is evocative of devotional paintings of a dead Christ.   There's no doubt about David's feelings for Marat himself.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Although his personal, artistic and political fortunes were under siege during the Revolution, Jacques Louis David became allied with Napoleon Bonaparte.  Appointed as the court painter, David used his considerable talents to promote Napoleon's new regime, portraying him as a hero in artwork like Napoleon Crossing the Alps

david napoleon alps resized 600

Here, Napoleon is portrayed in the tradition of grand Roman equestrian portraiture

Attired in full military regalia, Napoleon points to the summit of the mountain (or perhaps to Socrates' higher power).  David links Napoleon to some of history's most exalted rulers by the inscriptions "KAROLUS MAGNUS", or Charlemagne, and "ANNIBAL" engraved in stone in the left foreground under "BONAPARTE".

Napoleon Crossing the Alps. Oil on canvas, 1800.  8' x 7' 7".  Musee National du Chateau de Versailles. 

Less anyone doubt the intended propagandistic nature of this famous painting... history records that Napoleon crossed the Alps by mule

Love learning about famous artwork like these David paintings?

Explore the work of David's most well known pupilIngres.

Then join this art history blog, which is committed to unearthing the fun aspects of art history (remembere that mule!)

Posts come weekly or so, and comments are encouraged.

Join Art History Blog


Topics: famous paintings, Death of Marat, Death of Socrates

Join this Blog - (and add your thoughts!)

Feeling Lucky?

famous paintings cards

Good - because we're feeling generous!

Join this blog and earn a chance to win a FREE set of Masterpiece Cards (a $60 value). 

Enter Me to Win!

Famous Paintings ebook

This free ebook has a wealth of facts and articles about the 250 influential paintings in Masterpiece Cards.

Did we mention it's free? d0e42560-d745-43b3-8b2d-9ee2d3273b82

Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Botticelli Primavera

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings 

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  

Ghent Altarpiece via zoom

GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

Leonardo, Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta 

Leonardo, Savior of the World(Salvator Mundi) 

Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Leyster, Famous Female Painters 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

MantegnaDead Christ

Matisse Paintings, In Search of True Painting

Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

Michelangelo, Crucifixion with the Madonna

Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Modersohn-Becker, Famous Female Painters

Monet, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at an Early AgeJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, The Jewish Bride

Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

Uccello, Battle of San Romano

van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin

Velazquez, Pope Innocent X

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait

van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb

van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

van GoghMemory of Garden at Etten; Tatched Cottages; White House

van Gogh,  Portrait of Madam Trabuc; Morning: Going Out

van Gogh, Starry Night

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, Saint Praxedis

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

VermeerGirl with the Red Hat

Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

Anders Zorn

Famous Paintings by Art Museums - ebooks

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionFamous Paintings at Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces.

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): 10 famous paintings not to miss

Washington, D.C. Art Museums: Explore forty famous paintings in Washington, DC in this article.

Most Popular Posts

Michelangelo PaintingsThe Torment of Saint Anthony; The Manchester Madonna;Holy Family (Doni Tondo); and Entombment

Cave Paintings: explore this prehistoric art in Spain and France.

Picasso's Las Meninas: 58 Picasso paintings inspired by Velazquez's Las Meninas

Ghent Altarpiece: the van Eyck masterpiece, one of the most famous artworks ever made. 

Survey of Renaissance Paintings: want to know what Renaissance paintings were all about? Start with 20 of its most famous painters in this sweeping survey! 

Discover more of readers' favorite art history blog posts. 

Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

Helen Frankenthaler. Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea. 

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

Frida Kahlo.  Frida and Diego Rivera.  The Two Fridas.  The Love Embrace of the Universe. 

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Judith Leyster.  Self-Portrait.  The Proposition. 

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

Berthe Morisot.  Refuge in Normandy.  The Cradle. 

Georgia O'Keeffe. Jack in the Pulpit Series. 

Survey of Female Artists

Art History Other

Art History Reading List: 50+ great reads in fiction and non-fiction

Art History Videos on YouTube

Cave Paintings

Most Controversial Paintings

Google Art ProjectArt Museums Up Close

Survey of Female Artists

Survey of Renaissance Paintings.

Art History Beyond Europe

A few forays into art outside Europe:

African Art and Bocio

African Mask of Idia


Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors