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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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The Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is
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The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

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This 77-Year-Old Artist Saves Money on Art Supplies by 'Painting' in Microsoft Excel
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It takes a lot of creativity to turn a blank canvas into an inspired work of art. Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi makes his pictures out of something that’s even more dull than a white page: an empty spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

When he retired, the 77-year-old Horiuchi, whose work was recently spotlighted by Great Big Story, decided he wanted to get into art. At the time, he was hesitant to spend money on painting supplies or even computer software, though, so he began experimenting with one of the programs that was already at his disposal.

Horiuchi's unique “painting” method shows that in the right hands, Excel’s graph-building features can be used to bring colorful landscapes to life. The tranquil ponds, dense forests, and blossoming flowers in his art are made by drawing shapes with the software's line tool, then adding shading with the bucket tool.

Since picking up the hobby in the 2000s, Horiuchi has been awarded multiple prizes for his creative work with Excel. Let that be inspiration for Microsoft loyalists who are still broken up about the death of Paint.

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist's process in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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