CM: This picture presents Socrates, the great philosopher of ancient Greece, seated upon a step, composing a hymn while awaiting his death. The picture was engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815) after Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), a prominent 18th century history and genre painter. In 1782 the London bookseller Alexander Hogg (f. 1778-1824) published the same picture in an engraved neoclassical frame surmounted by ribbon-tied flowers is accompanied by the following description: "The celebrated Moral Philosopher Socrates while under sentence of Death at Athens, composing an Hymn to Apollo." § Socrates was a philosopher and teacher in Athens, considered by some to be the founder of the Western tradition of critical thinking as well as the Socratic Method, a way of tackling complex ideas by asking a series of questions. He was a principled man who risked taking stands unpopular with the people in power. In 399 BC, at about age 70, amidst the turbulent political climate of Athens he was indicted for "denying the gods" and "corrupting the young." He was convicted by a vote of judges and further angered his accusers by showing indifference to the results, and the exasperated judges sentenced him to death. During the waiting period of 30 days before the sentence was carried out, by all accounts he accepted his fate calmly and refused offers from friends to help him escape. § Angelica Kauffman was a child prodigy who was trained by her father, also a painter. From the age of 16 she traveled through Austria and Italy, assisting him with religious commissions as well as painting portrait commissions of her own. After arriving in London in 1766, she became known for her historical paintings, the most prestigious type of painting during the 18th century. This engraving is among her historical subjects, which were taken from ancient as well as modern history. Kauffman achieved extraordinary recognition for a female artist of her day, and was one of only two female founding members of the British Royal Academy. She spent the latter part of her life in Italy. § Francesco Bartolozzi was an engraver, etcher and painter born in Florence, Italy. He was trained in the Florentine Academy and apprenticed to a Venetian engraver. In 1764, King George III's librarian brought him to England, where he was appointed Engraver to the King and later held the title of Royal Academician. A prolific engraver, he developed a stipple method invented in France, and his work was admired for its subtle modulations of light and shade and his sensitive and graceful portrayal of the human form. The present print shows the tonal effects of the technique of stipple engraving, in which Bartolozzi was an expert. Prominent artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) praised his work and his pupils nicknamed him "the god of drawing." He spent the last 13 years of his life working and teaching in Lisbon, where he was knighted.
[Megakles Rogakos 08/2008]
HUNT, LEIGH Francesco Bartolozzi in The Catholic Encyclopedia 1907 Robert Appleton Company, New York, v.II