With his large marble statue of the ancient Greek warrior Philopoemen (Musée du Louvre, Paris), David sought to portray “the struggle between physical nature and moral being.” He celebrates the warrior’s courageous return to battle while facing great physical pain. In these small-scale works, Philopoemen is shown pulling a javelin from his thigh before rejoining the fight.
The preliminary terracotta model, with its dramatic upward sweep, captures the force of Philopoemen’s action, as well as his moral valor. The finished composition, illustrated here by a bronze reduction, tempers that heroism by giving greater prominence to Philopoemen’s pain. The latter decision, combined with the realism of the warrior’s body, made this a challenging sculpture for nineteenth-century viewers.