The Death of Marat is a 1793 painting by Jacques-Louis David of the murdered French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. It is one of the most famous images of the French Revolution. David was the leading French painter, as well as a Montagnard and a member of the revolutionary Committee of General Security.
The painting shows the radical journalist lying dead in his bath on 13 July 1793 after his murder by Charlotte Corday. Painted in the months after Marat’s murder, it has been described by T. J. Clark as the first modernist painting, for “the way it took the stuff of politics as its material, and did not transmute it”. Source [WikiPedia]
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- The Death of Marat was propaganda.
Not only the leading artist of his time, but also a zealous Jacobin and “official artist” of the radical revolutionary cause, David was asked by the revolutionary government to glorify three of its lost members for political gain. Essentially, David was charged with making Marat a publicly recognized martyr to the cause and an epic hero.
- It’s both an idealized and accurate portrait of Marat.
The propaganda angle informed David’s creative choices, urging him to blend fact and fiction. Almost like a crime scene photo, David carefully captured the green rug, bathtub, papers and pen left behind by the late revolutionary. However, he opted to exclude Marat’s physical imperfections.
The reason Marat was working in the bathtub to begin with was because he suffered from a skin condition, likely severe eczema. To soothe his skin, he habitually bathed in oatmeal. In depicting Marat’s final bath, David decided to portray his friend as a beautiful beacon, free of such superficial flaws.
- David pulled from religious inspiration to make Marat appear like a martyr.
The positioning of Marat’s right arm, long and limp, cascading down the canvas, has drawn comparisons to the death pose of Jesus in Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ. David was a noted fan of the 16th century Italian painter and also mimicked his use of light.
- Corday’s treachery is revealed in Marat’s hand.
Corday gained access to Marat’s private moment by entreating the writer to read a petition. As depicted by David, he was about to sign it as he was stabbed. The artist makes it clear that in his dying moments Marat’s last thoughts were only of the revolution.
- It has inspired a couple of major tributes.
In 1907, Edvard Munch, best known for The Scream, made an interpretation that put a nude Corday front and center. Picasso also applied his unique vision to the subject in 1931.