Thedeath of Marat is one of the most recognized paintings around theworld created in the 18thcentury by Frenchman, Jacques-Louis David. The artwork depicts thedeath or murder scene of journalist and French revolutionary leaderJean-Paul Marat, who was murdered in his bath tub by a woman namedCharlotte Corday. Corday was also a revolutionary from a differentfaction to Marat’s Jacobin. This piece of work carries variousmessages and portrays several styles in art which makes it a goodpiece for art critique. The paper presents personal critique of thepainting as well as the critiques of two writers.
Froma personal point of view, the painting is historical in nature with alot of political significance. It qualifies as a historical paintingbecause of its subject matter as opposed to adherence to conventionsin painting. The painting does not just portray a dead man but amartyr of the French revolution. As a political figure in the historyof France, the painting tells the story of the French revolution andthe sacrifices made by men such as Marat. It is for this reason thatthe painting is held in high regard due to its significance innarrating the story of the French revolution.
Giventhat David was recognized for his neoclassical style that hadreplaced the highly decorative Rococo style, David manages to somehowdecorate a dead body in the piece by eliminating elements that wouldhighlight death or desolation. For instance, although Marat is deadin the image, he still holds a piece of paper in one hand, a letterfrom his would-be killer with the name clearly depicted in a visiblemanner, and a pen in the other hand. Again, the fact that he wasworking from a bathtub captures his dedication to his work. Theartist also brings out the image of Marat strongly against a darkbackground. The body of Marat is well lighted, though no sourcevisible, which portrays him as the truth. Again, the side table onwhich Marat had placed another pen and ink has his name on the sidewhich makes it appear as a tombstone to represent death.
Thewhite sheet partly covering Marat’s body has a patch mended to it.This portrays simplicity of the man. As a revolutionary, herepresents the aspirations of the people as one of them with theirdesires in mind. However, this can also be the way that the artistsfelt about Marat. He felt that he was simple and humble. Again, hesaw him as a good man because of the manner he portrays an untroubledface even in death.
Thesame painting as it appeared at a lavish gallery exhibition at Sallede l’Odeon in France is also discussed by Kearns. The authoraddresses the meaning that the painting evokes. The author isinterested in this history of the Marat and the artists David. Thisis because the painting was supposed to marshal revolutionary supportby painting martyr in Marat (Kearns 678). However, David would laterdefect and support Napoleon Bonaparte and thus in way betraying hisfriend Marat. From an artistic point of view, Kearns writes that thepiece has surprised art critics. One of the most cited issues in thepainting pertains to the manner in which David was able to overcometechnical limitations to blend the past and the future of art in onepiece. Kearns reiterates that “David had made the Revolutionaryschool that he embodied a conduit between the classical traditionrepresented by Lesueur and the colourism and naturalism of the newRomantic school” (680). He also adds that one art critic for theL’Epoque,J.Arnouxhadobserved that David was inspired by his close friendship with Maratand the desire to push through a political and historical message tomake the painting. This is clear in the way he beautifully depictedhis friend in death and the idea of him being light the midst ofdarkness.
Beebeeanalyzed the same painting from the subject angle. He narrates thehistory and character of Jean-Paul Marat to justify why thecharacters was used by Peter Weiss as the hero in the play Marat/Sade(219). The author confirms what personal views expressed earlier inthe paper that Marat was a man of the people. He writes that Marat,through his newspaper named L`Ami du peuple (The People`s Friend)perceived himself as the voice of the people and not a voice for thethird estate, the aristocracy or even royalty. Beebee (221) also notethat the painting makes various political statements. The fact thatMarat is holding the letter while the bloodied knife with which hewas stabbed with lies on the ground depicts the letter a murderweapon. The latter which was written in pretense is also placed in away that it grabs the audience’s attention. Mata’s pen is alsoplaced parallel to the murder weapon to give the notion of equality.This would imply that Marat’s pen had caused the death of many sameas the knife.
Itis clear from the discussion above that the evokesinteresting meanings. However, it is by inspecting the period of apainting and its style can one best assess its adherence to any ofthe hierarchies or movements. Again, understanding the history of thesubject in relation to the painter point to personal messages thatthe David mad about the subject. All in all, doing this exercise wasinteresting and enlightening.
Beebee,Thomas. TheLetter Killeth: The Pli of Death in Jean- Paul Marat`s EpistolaryNovel.
Kearns,James. Niera-T-On Le Pouvoir Des Arts?’ Revisiting Jacques-LouisDavid at the
Exhibitionin the Bazar Bonne-Nouvelle. ModernLanguage Review,102 (2007), 672–86.