Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Secrets of the Paintings, part II

Today's painting also has a connection to Paris, so this will be a contribution within the  Paris in July theme.

The painting is Marat's death, painted by Jacques-Louis David.

Jean Paul Marat, a newspaperman and revolutionary politician, (born 1743) was stabbed 1793 in his bath, by a 24 year old Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday. She considered him to be crazy and a fanatic. He had split the French revolution and taken a road to destruction. The painter David, was also politically engaged and a close friend to Marat. The painting became part of a rising cult around the "revolutionary martyr". David's production mostly aimed at glorifying the republican martyrs and heros of the revolution.

Some events you read or hear about, but you never really know the background. Marat's death in his bathtub is one of these things (in Sweden it appears quite often in cross words, "Who was killed in the bath?). Finally, I get to know who he was and why he was killed. Here is not so much of hidden secrets, as in the paintings of Leonardo, but an artist's way of making a painting work, tell a story, and not necessarily look too much to the actual details. After all, the artist wants to say something with his painting and the real life picture might not reveal so much. 

Marat was suffering from a difficult skin disease, and took daily cold baths, swept into towels and a turban for his head. The turban was wet with vinegar so it was quite a smelly business. The towel, as we see, to the left was mended, which is a creation of the painter to show simplicity and frugality. Marat's face was full of dry spots due to his skin disease, and he was known to be a rather ugly person. The painter has beautified him a bit, I would say. 

The dark wallpaper in the background is a trick by the painter to give the impression that it is dark as in a grave. Marat had white paper wallpaper with pilaster. There was also a big map over France. He was killed in the bath, but the pose on the picture is not how it looked in real life. David wanted the picture to remind people of Jesus in the grave. The nakedness of Marat should lead the associasions to the heros and philosophers of the Antiquity. 

The letter he is holding is written by the female murderer. It 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". The letter was there when they found him, but if he had time to read it is not clear. 

The knife lying on the floor had a black handle and not white. The change of colour was done to make the blood more visible. Furthermore, the knife was in his chest when they found him so this is another change to make art speak for itself.

Finally, here below, two other versions of the same event, painted later. 

Charlotte Corday by Paul Jacques
Aimé Baudry, painted 1860.

One of two versions of Death of Marat
made by Edvard Munch in 1907
I would say that according to the description Baudry's painting seems to stick more to actual events.

Who was then Charlotte Corday? 

Charlotte de Corday
According to Wikipedia:
Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d'Armont (27 July 1768 – 17 July 1793), known to history as Charlotte Corday, was a figure of the French Revolution. In 1793, she was executed under the guillotine for the assassination of Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat, who was in part responsible, through his role as a politician and journalist, for the more radical course the Revolution had taken.


  1. What an interesting story... Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. I so enjoy learning the background of paintings and the stories behind the masterpiece. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Thank you!