Variation on Leonidas at Thermopylae
David was drawn to the story of Leonidas, the king of Sparta who died in 480 B.C. while fending off the invading Persian army. The artist labored for over 15 years on sketches and then a painting of Leonidas and his soldiers, who represent the ideal of heroic sacrifice for the nation that haunted him throughout his life.
Here David reworked the figure of Leonidas in the cropped format characteristic of his late drawings. He focused on Leonidas's calm facial expression, which was praised by critics. On the right is Leonidas's brother-in-law, Agis, expecting the order to take up arms. Behind this figure is a young soldier bidding farewell to his aging father.
David made this drawing when he was descreetly trying to sell the painting to the monarchy in France. In 1819 Louis XVIII bought both Leonidas and The Intervention of the Sabine Women for the Luxembourg palace in Paris. David could be proud that his art was admired even by the brother of Louis XVI, whom David had voted to send to the guillotine 26 years before.