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The print portrays a popular legend dating from antiquity in which the famous Greek physician Hippocrates refuses gifts offered by Artaxerxes, king of the Persians and enemy of the Greeks. It was engraved after an oil painting by Girodet from 1792, now in the collection of the Musée d'Histoire de la Médecine, Université René Descartes, Paris.
Hippocrates, the central historical figure in Greek medicine during the 5th century BCE, authored a group of medical treatises known collectively as the Hippocratic Corpus. It was Hippocrates who first attempted to separate the practice of medicine from religion and superstition. His Hippocratic Oath was remarkable in terms of the moral standards he sought to establish for the healing profession. Over the centuries, various legends originating in antiquity were repeated reinforcing Hippocrates' reputation as a man of great skill, integrity and patriotism. According to one of these stories, Artaxerxes appealed to Hippocrates to help cure an epidemic that was ravaging the Persian troops, offering him gold, silver and the highest honors. However, Hippocrates refused to be bribed. By the mid 19th century, this story was understood to be apocryphal.
Anne-Louis Girodet was among a generation of French painters trained by Neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David. Producing mainly portraits, history paintings and mythological subjects, Girodet is considered a pioneer of Romanticism, though he retained the sculptural qualities of Neoclassicism in his work. He exhibited at the Salons and earned important commissions during his lifetime, and his works are in museum collections around the world including the Louvre and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
Urbain Massard (whose full first name was Jean-Baptiste-Raphaël-Urbain) was an engraver born in Paris to a family of artists. He was a student of his brother Jean. Massard exhibited at the Salon from 1798 to 1822, and was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1824.
"Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson." Los Angeles: Getty Museum, 2000. http://www.getty.edu/art/collections/bio/a937-1.html.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 5, p. 826 (Massard).
"Girodet: Romantic Rebel." Art Institute of Chicago. 11 February 2006. http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/girodet/works.html (18 July 2008).
Pinault, Jody Rubin. Hippocratic Lives and Legends. Boston: 1992. pp. 1-2, 13-14. Online at http://books.google.com/books?id=8nMVlrkspnIC (18 July 2008).