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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David

"The Death of Marat" by Jacques-Louis David

“The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David

“The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David depicts the murdered French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. David’s painting shows the radical journalist at the moment of his death in his bath. Marat was one of the leaders of a key political group during the French Revolution, the radical faction which ascendant in French politics during the “Reign of Terror,” which it led. Marat suffered from a skin condition that caused him to spend much of his time in his bathtub, where he would often complete his work. Charlotte Corday, who murdered him, was from an opposing political fraction and a political enemy of Marat, who blamed him for the mass killings during the “September Massacre.

Painted in the months after Marat’s murder in 1793, David, who was a member of the Revolutionary Committee of General Security, created one of the most famous images of the French Revolution. Marat’s image is idealized as he has no sign of his skin problems; his skin appears clear and flawless. David, however, included other details from his visit to Marat’s residence the day before the assassination, including the green rug, the papers, and the pen.

The name of “Charlotte Corday” can be seen on the paper held in Marat’s left hand; however, she is not in the frame. Marat is depicted during his last breath when Corday was still in the room. Corday had fatally stabbed Marat, but she did not attempt to flee. David’s intent was not to record the horror but to associate his friend with sacred qualities.

David painted Marat as a martyr of the Revolution, in a style reminiscent of a Christian martyr, with the face and body bathed in soft glowing light. David was also drawing on classical parallels between the monumental events in France during his time and the historical Roman and Greek periods, that he had depicted in his other history paintings of Classical subjects and themes. The idea of forming a kind of new Republic greater than the ones seen by Rome and Greece was appealed to French Revolutionaries.

“The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David was widely admired during the Terror, whose leaders ordered several copies of the original work by David’s pupils to serve as propaganda. After Robespierre’s overthrow and execution, David and others were prosecuted for their involvement in the Terror, and the painting lost its public appeal.  David would have to wait for Napoleon’s rise to become prominent in the arts once more.

This original painting by David is displayed at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, the city where Jacques-Louis David had lived and died in exile after the fall of Napoleon. Some of the copies made by David’s pupils have survived and can be found in several other museums.

Jacques-Louis David - La Mort de Marat

“The Death of Marat” by Gioacchino Giuseppe Serangeli copy after David is in the Louvre Museum

Charlotte Corday

Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d’Armont (1768 – 1793) in 1793 was tried and executed by guillotine for the assassination of Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat, who was in part responsible for the more radical course the Revolution had taken through his role as a politician and journalist.

Marat had played a substantial role in the political purge of the Girondins, with whom Corday sympathized. In 1847,  a Frech writer and politician gave Corday the posthumous nickname “The Angel of Assassination.”

Reign of Terror

The Reign of Terror refers to a period during the French Revolution, which was characterized by a dramatic rejection of all long-held authority. The rejection of its hierarchical structure, and the corrupt influence of the aristocracy and clergy.

Religious elements that had long stood as symbols of stability for the French people were replaced by reason and science. The radical revolutionaries and their supporters desired a cultural revolution that would rid the French state of all traditional influence. This process began with the fall of the monarchy and ended with the fall of Maximilien Robespierre in 1794.

Between June 1793 and the end of July 1794, there were 16,594 official death sentences in France.

September Massacres

One of the atrocities that motivated Charlotte Corday was the “September Massacres.” This label was attached to a large number of killings in Paris and other cities that occurred in 1792 during the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror.

The massacres were not an outburst of passion, but coldly and carefully organized. More than 1,000 prisoners were killed within 20 hours. Jean-Paul Marat, a member of the “Comité de surveillance,” called this action. The rest of Paris looked on in fear or approval.

Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825) was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. In the 1780s, his history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward a classical austerity and feeling, harmonizing with the moral climate of the final years of the Royal Régime.

David became an active supporter of the French Revolution and friend of Maximilien Robespierre and was effectively a dictator of the arts under the French Republic. Imprisoned after Robespierre’s fall from power, he aligned himself with yet another political regime upon his release, that of Napoleon. At this time, he developed his Empire style.

After Napoleon’s fall from Imperial power and the Bourbon revival, David exiled himself to Brussels, then in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, where he remained until his death. David had a large number of pupils, making him the most substantial influence in French art of the early 19th century, primarily academic Salon painting.

The Death of Marat

  • Title:                The Death of Marat
  • French:            La Mort de Marat or Marat Assassiné
  • Artist:               Jacques-Louis David
  • Year:                1793
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    165 cm × 128 cm (65 in × 50 in)
  • Museum:          Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Jacques-Louis David

A Tour of European Museums

A Tour of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Reflections

  • Propaganda or Art?
  • A Frech writer and politician gave Corday the posthumous nickname “The Angel of Assassination.”

Your Feedback about “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David

Question:  Propaganda or Art?

  • Both propaganda and great art.
  • marketing for inkwells….
  • “The moment you hang a painting on a gallery wall, it becomes politics.” -Walter Benjamin
  • I was curious about his skin disease. It’s thought he might have contracted it while hiding out in the Paris sewers.
  • This is one of the reasons I love your Tweets — it stimulates my curiosity and makes me want to see more. Thank you & keep up the great work!
  • Mostly propaganda, but the man could paint…
  • i think in some respect they go hand in hand art is political and spiritual.. and some times the beauty of art is that it can be mindfulness too. the point of try too make is that it is all subjective and objective this is what makes all forms or art intriguing ..have a nice day
  • …both.
  • Me, make propaganda guv’nor? You must have me mixed up with someone else…
  • Napoleon was not as bad as English Nobs make out.
    England declared war on Napoleon because it was seen by the Nobs as a good way of cutting pollution (it’s why the LOVE THEM) because unions were on the rise.
    It didn’t work; Reform Bill proves this; all though it got watered down. Napoleon was not as bad as English Nobs make out. England declared war on Napoleon because it was seen by the Nobs as a good way of cutting Population (it’s why they LOVE THEM) because unions were on the rise. Reform Bill proves this; all though it got watered down.
  • Any art that is commissioned is inherently propaganda. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good art.
  • Portraying death has been a form of propaganda. This one is very unique.
  • It’s great art. David’s painting remains unique in portraying the violent death of a revolutionary journalist – in his bath, no less. There hasn’t been anything like it since, though life has imitated art and journalists die violent deaths today, more so than before.
  • Both
  • Both. I’ve always felt odd about expressing my love for this painting because of its gruesome nature. But I think it’s great as art, as propaganda, as historical artifact.
  • Agree with those who view this work as both.
  • Art of propaganda 😁
  • Eventually, both.
  • Both.
  • Both – in the 20th century one needs only look at Leni Riefenstahl – vile propaganda but also very innovative film making.
  • Yes.
  • Both.
  • Per què propaganda o art? (Why propaganda or art?)
  • Propaganda! As well as art.
  • A false dichotomy
  • The difference being…?
  • Propaganda.
  • Marat…🙋‍♂️🙋‍♂️
  • Both
  • Arte hecho propaganda política, y retomó su lugar en las artes. (Art made political propaganda, and took up its place in the arts.)
  • Very much the Owen Jones of the French Revolution
  • Is it a binary choice?
  • Propaganda is Art & Art is Propaganda

~~~

“Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void, and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts.”
– Maximilien Robespierre

~~~


Photo Credit: 1) Jacques-Louis David [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)] 2) Gioacchino Giuseppe Serangeli [Public domain]

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