Plato´s Symposium – Anselm Feuerbach – Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, w598 cm x h295 cm. Oil on canvas.
In ‘Das Gastmahl des Platon’ (1869) Anselm Feuerbach depicts the scene in Plato’s Symposium in which a drunken Alcibiades, accompanied by a band of revelers, enters the house of the poet Agathon. In this paper I offer an account of the significance of ‘Das Gastmahl’ in the light of three aims we have reason to attribute to its creator:
(1) to recreate a famous scene from ancient Greek literature, making
extensive use of (then) recent results of archaeological research;
(2) to convey a sense of the nobility of the ancient Greeks; and
(3) to offer a visual contrast of reason with desire.
I also argue that as he set out to accomplish these objectives Feuerbach displayed considerable indifference to the contents of Plato’s dialogue. Thus what ‘Das Gastmahl’ offers us is less ‘Plato’s symposium’ and more ‘Feuerbach’s symposium’, a visually striking but in some respects unfaithful representation of the Platonic original.