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. It is one of the most famous paintings of the Revolution.
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.
Marat is slumped in the bathtub, hand outstretched, lying motionless, in a lifeless picture of tranquility and peace. Marat is portrayed in a similar pose to sculptor Michelangelo’s masterpiece Pieta, which depicts Christ, arm outstretched as David depicted Marat. The significance is the inference that Marat sacrificed himself for the good of the people, just as Christ is said to have done. Other religious elements are also prominent, the halo like turban around Marat’s head, and the heavenly light shining upon Marat’s angelic face. It was Marat’s aim to construct images of a secular saint, Marat is bathed in light, which lends an angelic, other-worldly quality to him. All traces of the red, oozing scabs that thickly covered his skin are gone. Though he was killed by multiple stab wounds, inflicted on him by Charlotte Corday, only one is visible. That one, vertical slash is reminiscent of the spear wound painters have always shown in the side of Christ.