15 Things You Should Know About The Death of Marat

A strangely hypnotic portrait, Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat has emerged as one of the most famous images of the blood-soaked French Revolution. The history behind this morbid masterpiece is even richer than its color palette. 

1. The Death of Marat depicts a gruesome political murder

Outspoken journalist and notable member of the Montagnards, Jean-Paul Marat would never see the French Revolution's conclusion in 1799. On July 13th of 1793, the 50-year-old writer was murdered by 24-year-old Charlotte Corday, who was either, depending on the propaganda you believe, a supporter of the monarchy or a supporter of the less radical Girondins, and blamed Marat for the escalating violence of the revolution. After making no attempt to escape after stabbing him, Corday was apprehended and executed by guillotine just four days later.

2. The Death of Marat was propaganda.

Not only the leading artist of his time, but also a zealous Jacobin and "official artist" of the radical revolutionary cause, David was asked by the revolutionary government to glorify three of its lost members for political gain. Essentially, David was charged with making Marat a publicly recognized martyr to the cause and an epic hero.

3. It's both an idealized and accurate portrait of Marat

The propaganda angle informed David's creative choices, urging him to blend fact and fiction. Almost like a crime scene photo, David carefully captured the green rug, bathtub, papers and pen left behind by the late revolutionary. However, he opted to exclude Marat's physical imperfections. 

The reason Marat was working in the bathtub to begin with was because he suffered from a skin condition, likely severe eczema. To soothe his skin, he habitually bathed in oatmeal. In depicting Marat’s final bath, David decided to portray his friend as a beautiful beacon, free of such superficial flaws. 

4. David pulled from religious inspiration to make Marat appear like a martyr. 

The positioning of Marat's right arm, long and limp, cascading down the canvas, has drawn comparisons to the death pose of Jesus in Caravaggio's The Entombment of Christ. David was a noted fan of the 16th century Italian painter and also mimicked his use of light. 

5. David also drew from Greek and Roman sculpture. 

Art historian E.H. Gombrich explained of the creation of The Death of Marat: 

"He had learned from the study of Greek and Roman sculpture how to model the muscles and sinews of the body, and gave it the appearance of noble beauty; he had also learned from classical art to leave out all the details which were not essential to the main effect, and to aim at simplicity.” 

6. The Death of Marat was revolutionary for several reasons. 

The first is that it depicts a martyr of the French Revolution. The second is that it was painted in the midst of the French Revolution, mere months after Marat's demise. The last revolutionary element relates to how it marked a change from David's typical subject matter. He'd previously pulled his subjects from classical antiquity, but here his muse was a contemporary figure.

7. The Death of Marat is the only one of David’s propaganda paintings to survive. 

The Death of Lepeletier was destroyed on July 27th, 1794 during the coup d'état known as the Thermidorian Reaction. The Death of Bara was never completed. 

8. David decided to exclude Marat's killer almost completely.

While historian Alphonse de Lamartine would go on to describe Corday as "the Angel of Assassination," David was understandably less fond of Marat's murderer. He chose instead to focus on the man he admired, and only includes a mention of Corday in the writings surrounding Marat's corpse. 

Similarly, he chose to remove the offending knife from his colleague's chest where Corday had left it. Instead, it sits, stained with blood, on the floor. 

9. Corday's treachery is revealed in Marat's hand. 

Corday gained access to Marat's private moment by entreating the writer to read a petition. As depicted by David, he was about to sign it as he was stabbed. The artist makes it clear that in his dying moments Marat's last thoughts were only of the revolution. 

10. The Death of Marat was initially popular.

Presented by David to his peers in November 15, 1793, the painting was instantly so beloved by the Montagnards and their sympathizers that it was hung in the hall of their National Convention of Deputies. Reproductions were also made for further propaganda use. But as the tide turned against the Montagnards, so too did opinion of the painting. To protect it, David hid the work when he himself was exiled for his part in the Reign of Terror. 

11. The Death of Marat got a second life after David's death.

Twenty-one years after David passed away in 1825, renewed interest came from French art critic and poet Charles Baudelaire's praises of the long-forgotten portrait. 

Baudelaire wrote

“The drama is here, vivid in its pitiful horror. This painting is David’s masterpiece and one of the great curiosities of modern art because, by a strange feat, it has nothing trivial or vile … This work contains something both poignant and tender; a soul is flying in the cold air of this room, on these cold walls, around this cold funerary tub.” 

12. The iconic French painting now calls Brussels home. 

After having been banished for a second time after the fall of Napoleon, David fled with the painting and lived out the rest of his days in the Belgian capital. Sixty-one years later, David’s family decided to bequeath the painting to the city that accepted David. And the Royal Museum of Fine Arts has been proud to display The Death of Marat since 1886. 

However, reproductions can be found in museums in Dijon, Reims, and Versailles. 

13. It has inspired a couple of major tributes. 

In 1907, Edvard Munch, best known for The Scream, made an interpretation that put a nude Corday front and center. Picasso also applied his unique vision to the subject in 1931. 

14. It's repeatedly referenced in pop culture. 

In the movies, Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon and Derek Jarman's Caravaggio mimic the painting’s composition in their mise-en-scene. Andrzej Wajda's Danton includes a scene of David's creation of The Death of Marat. The scene was brought to life in Abel Gance's 1927 film Napoleon. It was rendered in garbage in the landfill documentary Waste Land

In 2013, it was gender-swapped with Lady Gaga in Marat's spot for ARTPOP. And it has even been memed in response to contemporary conflicts. 

15. The Death of Marat has become more famous than Marat. 

Because of David's moving—if manipulative—depiction of his fallen friend, The Death of Marat has struck a chord and spent the last two centuries becoming a highly recognized painting. Though some viewers might not know it by name, they recognize its influential iconography. But Marat the man is known primarily because of this very portrait.

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5-Year-Old Boy Hugs, Then Destroys, a $132,000 Sculpture When His Parents Aren't Looking
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A 5-year-old boy's playful mistake may end up costing his parents a small fortune. As ABC News reports, the boy knocked over and destroyed a valuable piece of art on display in the lobby of the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas. Now, the city's insurance company is asking them to pay for it.

The parents were preparing to leave a wedding reception as their son was filmed running around the building's lobby. At one point in the security footage, he can be seen stopping to embrace a sculpture, titled Aphrodite di Kansas City, which causes it to fall towards him and onto the ground.

According to Overland Park's insurance company, the piece was damaged irreparably by the fall. It had been listed at a price of $132,000, and a few days after the incident, the parents received a claim asking them to cover the entire cost.

“You’re responsible for the supervision of a minor child […] your failure to monitor could be considered negligent,” the letter read.

The couple disputed the accusation, instead blaming the community center for not better securing the sculpture. As for the chances of the Aphrodite di Kansas City being repaired or rebuilt, local artist Bill Lyons said it isn't likely. He spent two years creating the original piece, and after declaring it permanently destroyed, he told ABC News he doesn't have the drive or capacity to make a new one.

It isn't just rambunctious 5-year-olds who have been known to ruin expensive art. Grown-up museum visitors, whether they're tripping over untied shoelaces or getting in position for the perfect selfie, can be just as destructive.

[h/t ABC News]

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8 Things You Might Not Know About The Wizard of Id
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Titan Books

Debuting in 1964, Brant Parker and Johnny Hart’s The Wizard of Id took a page from the macabre humor of cartoonist Charles Addams. Ruling the kingdom of Id, a pint-sized tyrant uses humor to disarm a medieval cast made up of a jester, an executioner, a thief, and the titular magician, whose spells don’t usually impress. Although Hart and Parker both passed away in 2007, their black humor lives on. Take a look at some facts behind the throne, including the time Jim Henson almost brought it to television.

1. THE IDEA FOR THE STRIP CAME FROM A DECK OF PLAYING CARDS.

Johnny Hart was already a successful syndicated cartoonist (the Stone Age comedy B.C.) before he and former Disney animator Brant Parker decided to collaborate on a different project. Hart was flipping through a deck of playing cards in 1964 when he came across a peculiar illustration used for the king. Drawing on it to create his own diminutive despot, Hart wrote most of the jokes for Id while Parker illustrated it.

2. THE SYNDICATE THOUGHT THE TWO ARTISTS WERE DISGUSTING.

Although Id would eventually be syndicated to over 1000 strips across the country, Hart and Parker first had to get past the gatekeepers of cartoon distribution operating out of New York. Traveling to the city to show them samples, the two worked late into the night and called to tell executives they were ready. They didn’t know the syndicate would be coming to their hotel room, which was a mess of papers, food, and beer bottles. Caught off-guard, the men looked like transients. “We think you guys are disgusting,” one executive said, “but we love the strip. We’ll take it.”

3. THE SHORT JOKES WERE BASED ON JOHNNY HART.

In a visual juxtaposition, the king of Id’s height is inversely proportional to his power. Parker said the character’s stature was based partly on Hart, who used to fend off jokes about his own height. "The king became short because we used to kid John about being short and a lot of the short gags began to slide over into the strip," Parker said. "He just kept getting smaller, and as he shrunk, the nose got bigger and bigger."

4. A LITTLE GIRL GOT THEM TO DROP A CHARACTER.

Most of the humor in Id is centered around the morbid dynamics of Middle Ages politics, which is not normally an opportunity to offend current sensibilities. But early on, Parker and Hart created a karate teacher from Japan who was perceived by some as a stereotype. When Parker received a letter from a young Japanese-American girl who was being teased at school as a result of the character, the creators decided to drop him from the strip.

5. JIM HENSON WAS GOING TO PUT IT ON TELEVISION.

An avowed fan of comic strips and of The Wizard of Id in particular, Muppets creator Jim Henson met with Hart in 1968 to discuss a possible collaboration. Henson wanted to create an Id television show that would use puppets against an animated backdrop. Hart agreed, and in 1969, Henson was able to shoot test footage featuring himself as the voice of the Wizard. But executives at Publishers-Hall, which had taken over syndication of the strip, were having trouble enticing networks into producing a series. By the time ABC showed interest, Henson had moved on to Sesame Street and other projects. Wizard of Id got translated into animation in 1970 as part of a Chuck Jones variety series titled Curiosity Shop.

6. HART TURNED DOWN FEATURE FILM OFFERS.

Possibly disappointed in the outcome of the Henson project, Hart wasn’t very receptive to offers to adapt Id into other mediums. He reportedly shunned Steven Spielberg and Norman Lear when they called about adaptations. Producer Andrew Gaty managed to interest Hart in 1987, though his plans for a live-action feature—possibly starring Danny DeVito as the king—never came to fruition.

7. IT WAS A (STRANGE) VIDEO GAME.

In 1984, users of the ColecoVision home computer system were able to pick up a software program with an unwieldy title: The Wizard of Id’s Wiz Math. The edutainment program allowed players to brush up on math skills by solving problems faced by Spookingdorf, the tortured and jailed cast member of the strip. By solving math problems, players could navigate Spookingdorf out of his dungeon. The game was produced by Sierra, which later became known for its King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry franchises. A typing game, WizType, was also released.

8. BLONDIE AND BEETLE BAILEY CELEBRATED THE STRIP'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY.

When The Wizard of Id passed the half-century milestone in 2014, the entire comics page came out to celebrate. Hi and Lois featured a portrait of the Wizard in a panel, while Blondie and Family Circus made subtle references to the anniversary. (As modern-day strips, it would be difficult to regard a medieval strip with more overt acknowledgment.) In Beetle Bailey, the perennial screw-up shared a cell with the eternally suffering Spookingdorf.

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