15 July 2010

The Death of Marat by Jacque-Louis David

The painting "The Death of Marat" by Jacques-Louis David is an unforgettable masterpiece with its beauty and glorification. But it was also a lie. During the French Revolution, one of the bloodiest historical eras, this artwork transformed Marat into a saint, creating an image of virtue out of the most paranoid accomplice of the Reign of Terror.
 Jacques-Louis David was a strong supporter of the French Revolution.  He was a friend of Jean-Paul Marat. Marat was a famous and fiery orator who would stop at nothing to supply Lady Guillotine with victims. As his power as a journalist became more influential, the accused also increased. The relentless bloodshed in France became genocide under the blade of fear, hate and hope.
Charlotte Corday, a farmgirl, was revolted by the mass murders. She felt that Marat was responsible for the misfortunes the French people were undergoing. Determined, she gained access to Marat’s apartment under the pretext that she had a list of traitors. In his bathtub, where he copied down the names of his next victims, she stabbed him in the chest. On July 13, 1793 “The Friend of the People” was gone. Four days after his murder Corday was executed as a tragic heroine of the Revolution. However, brave and noble Marat’s assassination was, he got his revenge. Her actions and words did not stop the Jacobins nor did they extinguish the Terror. Instead Marat’s existence became timeless.
As the official director of revolutionary propaganda, "The Death of Marat" made David who he was as a leader of the arts. It was the most notorious image produced by the Terror. David painted Marat in the pose used to portray Christ in the earlier eras. This glorified Marat as a holy man, a martyr. In the eyes of the people he became a pure and blameless victim in the cruel hands of death.
"The Death of Marat" was almost as if designed to make its viewers think of themselves as virtuous citizens. Usually paintings were made to improve humanity, but instead this lie David translated through art corrupted the people by deceiving them. The wooden box he wrote on connected Marat to the ordinary people. The wound inflicted upon his chest displayed a thin cut almost beautiful - his body void of any other imperfections. The white sheets stained with blood symbolized a crime. The dark background intensifies the significance of the painting. This image became a showcase of honesty and virtue. Marat’s face replaced crucifixes and religious icons and statues that had been removed under the new regime. He became a saint to the supporters of the Revolution.
David’s art was an entire way of life, or rather death, all things considered. His unforgivable crime was that he knew the secret "The Death of Marat" hid from the world. The beautiful yet repulsive image focused on the wrongness of the murder itself, blaming Charlotte Corday, instead of revealing Marat’s irrational, if not crazy nature. It still has the same impact as it did more than a hundred years ago - true symbol of martyrdom. The painting made him, as well as the events of the Revolution, immortal.

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