French Revolution-Death of Marat (painting analysis, representations of the past)

French Revolution-Death of Marat
(painting analysis, representations of the past)

The Death of Marat , is an idealistic portrait
painted by Jacques-Louis David, depicting the assassination of one of the
leaders of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat. Marat was a prominent
member of a group of people called the Jacobins, and founder of a controversial
newspaper publication, ‘L’Ami du Peuple’ ("the Friend of the People’).

Through the title of his paper, he became widely acknowledged as just that.

Marat used his "the Friend of the People" publication frequently to call
for popular violence against politicians. Marat was a part of a group of
people called the Sans Culottes. The Sans Culottes supported Marat, and

Marat had an influence over them. The main target of his calls were largely
a group of people called the Girondins. The Jacobins blamed the Girondins
for the defeats on the battlefield and the rising prices of food.

On the second of June the Sans-Culottes,
supporters of the Jacobins, forced their way into the Convention and expelled
the leading Girondins . Many of the expelled Girondins fled Paris,
in fear of facing the recently invented guillotine. Many fled to their
provinces. In doing so they triggered off revolts in the provinces which
supported the Girondins. By the summer of 1793, sixty out of eighty-three
departments had joined the rebellion against the government.

Faced with such immense problems, on April
the 6th, the Convention set up an emergency group called the Committee
of Public Safety. This was quite a contradiction of terms, as on September
the 17th "The Law of Suspects" came into effect. " The Law of Suspects"
started a period referred to as the "Reign of Terror". During this period
groups of citizens in every town were required to write up lists of people
suspected of opposing the government. Citizens of whatever sex, age, or
condition were ruthlessly executed purely for being suspected of opposing
the government; "public safety" was in fact at an all time low. Marat was
vocal in support of the executions, and this was what ultimately led to
his demise. On July 13th 1793 Charlotte Corday, a woman with Girondin sympathies
gained entry to Marat’s apartment and murdered him.

Subsequently Jacques-Louis David was "commissioned
by the convention " to paint a portrait of Marat. The function of David’s
painting was to ensure that the momentum of the revolution kept moving
forward. If Marat was to be a symbol for maintaining the momentum
of the revolution then David needed to portray him in the most appealing
possible way, as "friend of the People"; a martyr. Obviously then, David
could not portray Marat as old and ill. David’s aim was to indeed ‘construct
images of the secular saint’ . By depicting Marat in such a martyr
like fashion David ensured that Marat’s political ideologies would live
on. With David’s painting displaying such sympathies towards Marat he helped
the Sans Culottes strengthen support which in turn ensured Marat\'s and
the Sans Cullotes ideals would therefore continue the momentum of the revolution
moving forward. The assassination of Marat sent shockwaves through Paris.

The fact that a "Girondin" had infiltrated Paris, and killed a leading
revolutionary figure in his own home scared many leaders (in particular

Robspierre) who now feared the same could easily happen to them. They needed
to ensure Marat’s death would raise sympathies with their parties and quash
any future counter-revolutionary assassinations.

David had previously shown an aptitude
for painting historical events. One of his most famous is that of "The

Oath the Horatii" . In this painting David depicts precisely what the French

Revolution came to represent. The painting depicts three brothers declaring
that they would fight to their death as champions of their city against
that of a rival city, for the common good of the people . The subject of

The Oath of the Horatii is dedication and sacrifice.

This same theme was present in David’s
portrayal of Marat. David shows a Marat who sacrificed his life for
the people of his country. In his hand Marat holds a letter. In the letter

Corday pleads for assistance. This is an historical inaccuracy by David,
showing the problems of representing the past, as this particular
letter was never actually shown to Marat. It was only to be used by Corday
to gain access to Marat if her first attempt to see him should fail . It
is the distortion and manipulation of the facts such these that artists
used to further a particular point of view or cause.

Lying beside Marat there also lies an
assignat upon a wooden crate; the