The Death of Marat

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La Mort de Marat
Jacques-Louis David - La Mort de Marat.jpg
Artist Jacques-Louis David
Year1793
Mediumoil on canvas
Dimensions165 cm× 128 cm(65 in× 50 in)
Location Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

The Death of Marat (French : La Mort de Marat or Marat Assassiné) 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 July 13, 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".

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Jacques-Louis David French Neoclassical painter

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

Jean-Paul Marat politician and journalist during the French Revolution

Jean-Paul Marat was a French political theorist, physician, and scientist. He was a journalist and politician during the French Revolution.

Contents

The murder

Marat (24 May 1743 – 13 July 1793, 18th century France) was one of the leaders of the Montagnards, the radical faction ascendant in French politics during the Reign of Terror until the Thermidorian Reaction. Charlotte Corday was a Girondin from a minor aristocratic family and a political enemy of Marat who blamed him for the September Massacre. She gained entrance to Marat's rooms with a note promising details of a counter-revolutionary ring in Caen.

Reign of Terror Period during the French Revolution

The Reign of Terror, or The Terror, refers to a period during the French Revolution after the First French Republic was established.

Thermidorian Reaction Counter-revolution in France against Robespierre, July 1794

The Thermidorian Reaction was a counter revolution which took place in France on 9 Thermidor of the Year II. On this day, the French politician Maximilien Robespierre was denounced by members of the National Convention as "a tyrant", leading to Robespierre and twenty-one associates including Louis Antoine de Saint-Just being arrested that night and beheaded on the following day.

Charlotte Corday figure of the French Revolution

Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d'Armont, known as Charlotte Corday, was a figure of the French Revolution. In 1793, she was 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. His murder was depicted in the painting The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David, which shows Marat's dead body after Corday had stabbed him in his medicinal bath. In 1847, writer Alphonse de Lamartine gave Corday the posthumous nickname l'ange de l'assassinat.

Marat suffered from a skin condition that caused him to spend much of his time in his bathtub; he would often work there. Corday fatally stabbed Marat, but she did not attempt to flee. She was later tried and executed for the murder.

David's politics

As well as being the leading French painter of his generation, David was a prominent Montagnard, and a Jacobin, aligned with Marat and Maximilian Robespierre. A deputy of the Museum section at the Convention, he voted for the death of the King, and served on the Committee of General Security, where he actively participated in the sentencing and imprisonment of many and eventually presided over the "section des interrogatoires". He was also on the Committee of Public Instruction. [1]

Jacobin The most radical group in the French Revolution

The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, after 1792 renamed Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Freedom and Equality, commonly known as the Jacobin Club or simply the Jacobins, became the most influential political club during the French Revolution of 1789 and following. The period of their political ascendency is known as the Reign of Terror, during which time tens of thousands were put on trial and executed in France, many for political crimes.

National Convention Single-chamber assembly in France from 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795

The National Convention was the first government of the French Revolution, following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly. Created after the great insurrection of 10 August 1792, it was the first French government organized as a republic, abandoning the monarchy altogether. The Convention sat as a single-chamber assembly from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795.

Style

Detail of The Death of Marat showing the paper held in Marat's left hand. The letter reads (in French) "Il suffit que je sois bien malheureuse pour avoir droit a votre bienveillance" or in English, "Given that I am unhappy, I have a right to your help" Death of Marat by David (detail).jpg
Detail of The Death of Marat showing the paper held in Marat's left hand. The letter reads (in French) "Il suffit que je sois bien malheureuse pour avoir droit a votre bienveillance" or in English, "Given that I am unhappy, I have a right to your help"

Marat's figure is idealized. [2] For example, the painting contains no sign of his skin problems, his skin appears clean and unblemished. David, however, drew other details from his visit to Marat's residence the day before the assassination: the green rug, the papers, and the pen. David promised his peers in the National Convention that he would later depict their murdered friend invocatively as "écrivant pour le bonheur du peuple" (writing for the good of the people). The Death of Marat is designed to commemorate a personable hero. Although the name Charlotte Corday can be seen on the paper held in Marat's left hand, she herself is not visible. Close inspection of this painting shows Marat at his last breath, when Corday and many others were still nearby (Corday did not try to escape). Therefore, David intended to record more than just the horror of martyrdom. [3] In this sense, for realistic as it is in its details, the painting, as a whole, from its start, is a methodical construction focusing on the victim, a striking set up regarded today by several critics as an "awful beautiful lie"— certainly not a photograph in the forensic scientific sense and barely the simple image it may seem (for instance, in the painting, the knife is not to be seen where Corday had left it impaled in Marat's chest, but on the ground, beside the bathtub).

The Death of Marat has often been compared to Michelangelo's Pietà . Note the elongated arm hanging down in both works. David admired Caravaggio's works, especially Entombment of Christ , which mirrors The Death of Marat's drama and light.

<i>Pietà</i> (Michelangelo) sculpture by Michelangelo

The Pietà is a work of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, housed in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. It is the first of a number of works of the same theme by the artist. The statue was commissioned for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, who was a representative in Rome. The sculpture, in Carrara marble, was made for the cardinal's funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica, in the 18th century. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed.

Caravaggio 16th and 17th-century Italian painter

Michelangelo Merisida Caravaggio was an Italian painter active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily from the early 1590s to 1610. His paintings combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, which had a formative influence on Baroque painting.

<i>The Entombment of Christ</i> (Caravaggio) painting by Ainara

Caravaggio created one of his most admired altarpieces, The Entombment of Christ, in 1603–1604 for the second chapel on the right in Santa Maria in Vallicella, a church built for the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri. A copy of the painting is now in the chapel, and the original is in the Vatican Pinacoteca. The painting has been copied by artists as diverse as Rubens, Fragonard, Géricault and Cézanne.

David sought to transfer the sacred qualities long associated with the monarchy and the Catholic Church to the new French Republic. He painted Marat, martyr of the Revolution, in a style reminiscent of a Christian martyr, with the face and body bathed in a soft, glowing light. [2] As Christian art had done from its beginning, David also played with multileveled references to classical art. Suggestions that Paris could compete with Rome as capital and mother city of the Arts and the idea of forming a kind of new Roman Republic appealed to French Revolutionaries, who often formed David's audience.

Roman Republic Period of ancient Roman civilization (509–27 BC)

The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

Later history

Charlotte Corday by Paul Jacques Aime Baudry, painted 1860. Charlotte Corday.jpg
Charlotte Corday by Paul Jacques Aimé Baudry, painted 1860.
One of two versions of Death of Marat made by Edvard Munch in 1907 MunchDerToddesMarat1907.JPG
One of two versions of Death of Marat made by Edvard Munch in 1907

Widely admired during the Terror whose leaders ordered several copies of the original work (copies made in 1793–1794 by David's pupils to serve propaganda), The Death of Marat slowly ceased to be 'frontpage history' after Robespierre's overthrow and execution. At his request, it was returned to David in 1795, himself being prosecuted for his involvement in the Terror as a member of the Comité de Sureté Général (he would have to wait for Napoleon's rise to become prominent in the arts once more). From 1795 to David's death, the painting languished in obscurity. During David's exile in Belgium, it was hidden, somewhere in France, by Antoine Gros, David's dearest pupil. In 1826 (and later on), the family tried to sell it, with no success at all. It was rediscovered by the critics in the mid-nineteenth century, especially by Charles Baudelaire whose famous comment in 1846[ further explanation needed ] became the starting point of an increased interest among artists and scholars. In the 20th century, the painting inspired several painters (among them Picasso and Munch who delivered their own versions), poets (Alessandro Mozzambani) and writers (the most famous being Peter Weiss with his play Marat/Sade ).

The original painting is currently displayed at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, being there as a result of a decision taken by the family to offer it, in 1886, to the city where the painter had lived quietly and died in exile after the fall of Napoleon. Some of the copies (the exact number of those completed remains uncertain) made by David's pupils (among them, Gioacchino Giuseppe Serangeli and Gérard) survived, notably visible in the museums of Dijon, Reims, and Versailles. The original letter, with bloodstains and bath water marks still visible, has survived and is currently intact in the ownership of Robert Lindsay, 29th Earl of Crawford. [4]

Other artists have also depicted the death of Marat, sometimes long after the facts, whose works refer or not to David's masterpiece. Among these later works, the Charlotte Corday by Paul Jacques Aimé Baudry, painted in 1860, during the Second Empire, when Marat's "dark legend" (the angry monster insatiably hungry for blood) was widely spread among educated people, depicts Charlotte Corday as a true heroine of France, a model of virtue for the younger generations. The versions of Picasso and Munch are less trying to refer to the original context in itself than to confront modern issues with those of David, in terms of style. Brazilian artist Vik Muniz created a version composed of contents from a city landfill as part of his "Pictures of Garbage" series. [5]

Footnotes

  1. Wildenstein, pp. 43–59.
  2. 1 2 Smarthistory, David's Death of Marat, accessed 28 December 2012
  3. Vaughan, William; Helen Weston (2000). Jacques-Louis David's 'Marat'. Cambridge University Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN   0-521-56337-2.
  4. The Earl of Crawford has the largest collection of French revolutionary manuscripts in Scotland.
  5. "A Modern Marat". The Wall Street Journal . 16 October 2010.
  6. "Sykelig Englen - Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives". www.metal-archives.com.
  7. Mills, Mike (21 September 2018). "Which Michael references in the song "We Walk".https://twitter.com/REMLyrics1/status/1043225539794948102 …".

Bibliography

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