David produced the painting to compete for the Prix de Rome of 1771. For the competition, he and the seven other participating artists were assigned the task of painting a new work in 10 weeks on a set subject, which that year was the Iliad. David's painting was awarded the second prize as the Prix de Rome was given to Joseph-Benoît Suvée. David believed that harsh criticism of his work by his teacher Joseph-Marie Vien had caused the prize to be awarded to an inferior painter, and became disgruntled with the academy, which he considered to be a dishonest institution. In 1774, David finally won the competition on his fourth attempt with Erasistratus Discovering the Cause of Antiochus' Disease.
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