Back to browse highlights

Leonidas at Thermopylae

Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels)

ca. 1814
Black chalk, squared in black chalk
16 x 21 5/8 in. (40.6 x 54.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1963
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This is a compositional study for David's large canvas of the same subject, signed and dated 1814 and today in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. The drawing was executed in two distinct stages, offering a view into the artist's creative process. Over a detailed, lightly sketched composition David reworked the sheet in a darker, more emphatic black chalk, refining and simplifying the landscape and figures, especially on the right side. Leonidas, leader of the Spartan troops, is shown calm and unwavering as his men prepare to battle the Persians at the pass of Thermopylae. Many of the poses and figural types used by David refer to classical prototypes, as does the practice—debated during David's time—of depicting classical warriors nude.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Marking: [pen and brown ink, lower right corner of recto]: monograms of Eugène David (Lugt 839) and Jules David (Lugt 1437), the artist's sons, who affixed their monograms to certain of their father's drawings at the time of the atelier sale on April 17, 1826

  • Provenance

    Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels)vente David, Paris, Apriil 17, 1826 and following days, part of lot 92 (with two other "compositions au trait" for the Léonidas); Jean Oberlé ; Henri Baderou ; Galerie Wildenstein (France); Vendor: Wildenstein & Co., Inc. (New York)

  • Exhibition History

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Classicism and Romanticism. French Drawings and Prints," September 15, 1970–November 1, 1970.

    Musée du Louvre. "Dessins Français du Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, de David à Picasso," October 25, 1973–January 7, 1974.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 17, 1995–August 20, 1995.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," January 8, 2007–March 25, 2007.

  • Catalogue Raisonné

    Bean and Turcic 1986.93

  • References

    Régis Michel Posséder et détruire, Stratégies sexuelles dans l'art d'Occident. Ex. cat., musée du Louvre, Hall Napoleon du 10 avril au 10 juillet 2000. 2000, cat. no. 51, pp. 111, 121-3, ill.

    Arlette Sérullaz Dessins français de 1750 à 1825 dans les collections du Musée du Louvre: Le néo-classicisme. 1972, cat. no. under 56 & 59.

    Erik Fischer Tegninger of C.W. Eckersberg. Copenhagen, 1983, fig. no. 85, 1, pp. 173-174.

    Steven A. Nash "The Compositional Evolution of David's Leonidas at Thermopylae." in The Metropolitan Museum Journal. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 13, New York, 1978, note 5, p. 106, 109-111, fig. no. 2, pp. 103, 104.

    E. J. Delécluze, J.-P. Mouilleseaux Louis David, son école et son temps Nouvelle édition annotée par J.P. Nouilleseaux. Paris, 1983 [orig. 1855], pp. 264-265, ill.

    David Draper, Joan R. Mertens Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Memories and Revivals of the Classical Spirit. Ex. cat., National Pinakothiki, Alexander Soutzos Museum, Athens. National Pinakothiki, Alexander Soutzos Museum, Athens, 1979, cat. no. 75, ill.

    Jacob Bean, Dietrich von Bothmer "Apropos du 'Leonida aux Thermopiles' de David. I. Un dessin inédit au Métropolitan Museum." in Revue du Louvre. 14e. Annee, vol. 6, Paris, 1964, fig. no. 1, p. 327.

    Jacob Bean, Lawrence Turcic 15th-18th Century French Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1986, cat. no. 93, pp. 90-91, ill.

    Dietrich von Bothmer "A propos du 'Léonidas aux Thermopiles' de David." La Revue du Louvre. \, no. 6, 1964, pp. 327-332.

    Jacob Bean 100 European Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York Graphic Society, New York, 1964, fig. no. 1, pp. 327, 329, ill.

    Linda Boyer Gillies, Colta Ives, Jacob Bean Classicism and Romanticism: French Drawings and Prints, 1800-1860. Ex. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1970, cat. no. 16, p. 3.

    The Age of Neo-classicism. Ex. cat., September 9 - November 19. Victoria and Albert Museum, Royal Academy of Arts, London, London, 1972, cat. no. 556, p. 82, ill.

    Jacob Bean, Linda Boyer Gillies, Cynthia Lambros, Roseline Bacou, Réunion des musées nationaux Dessins français du Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York de David à Picasso. 54th Exposition de Cabinet des Dessins Musée du Louvre, 25 October, 1973-7 January 1974. Paris, 1973, cat. no. 24, pp. 31-2, ill.

    Antoine Schnapper David, témoin de son temps. Paris, 1980, fig. no. 175, p. 272.

    Arlette Sérullaz Autour de David: Dessins néo-classiques du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lille. Ex. cat. 1983, fig. no. 3, pp. 19, 20.

    Thomas W. Gaehtgens "Jacques-Louis David: Leonidas bei den Thermopylen." In Ideal und Wirklichkeit der bildenden Kunst im späten 18.Jahrhunderts. 1984, fig. no. 14, p. 235 note 37, , ill.

    Luc de Nanteuil Jacques-Louis David. New York, 1985, fig. no. 48, p. 35.

    Steven A. Nash The Drawings of Jacques-Louis David: Selected Problems. PhD diss., 1973 fig. no. 163 & 164, pp. 140,143, 146, ill.

    Antoine Schnapper, Arlette Sérullaz Jacques-Louis David 1748-1825. Ex. cat. Paris and Versailles, 1989, cat. no. under 217, 224, pp. 630, 493, 49.

    Warren Roberts Jacques-Louis David. Revolutionary Artist: Art, Politics, and the French Revolution. Chapel Hill & London, 1989, fig. no. 80, p. 183.

    B. Noël David. French / English edition. Vaduz - New York, 1989.

    J. J. Lévêque La Vie et l'oeuvre de Jacques-Louis David. Paris, 1989, fig. no. repr. p. 167, ill.

    Arlette Sérullaz Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des dessins. Inventaire général des dessins. Ecole français. Dessins de Jacques-Louis David 1748-1825.. Paris, 1991.

    Dorothy Johnson Jacques-Louis David: Art in Metamorphosis. Princeton, 1993, p. 295 note 90, fig. no. 89, pp. 166, 168, ill.

    Pierre Rosenberg, Louis-Antoine Prat Jacques-Louis David 1748-1825: Catalogue raisonné des dessins. 2 vols., Milan, 2002, cat. no. 317 (vol. I), p. 299, ill.

    Philippe Bordes Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile. Ex. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Calif., 1 Feb.-24 April, 2005 and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass., 5 June-5 Sept., 2005. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005, cat. no. 25, pp. 196-204, ill.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History