Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Neoclassical Art

Who was Jacques-Louis David?

Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) was arguably the most important French painter working in the neoclassical style, whose art first exemplified the values of the French Revolution, and then the imperial style of Emperor Napoleon. In his history paintings, such as The Oath of the Horatii (1784), David depicted patriotic Roman scenes, which emphasized themes of sacrifice and heroism, and captured the spirit of the revolution. His 1793 painting, The Death ofMarat, which was commissioned during the bloody Reign of Terror, commemorates the bloody death of Jean-Pierre Marat, a Jacobin journalist and politician murdered while in the bathtub, by a woman aligned with the Girondins, an opposing political faction. Marat was known to have a debilitating skin disease, and often worked while soaking in the bathtub. The painting idealizes Marat, whose body slumps over the edge of the tub, which is presented in a minimalist fashion against a simple bathroom, quite unlike Marat’s real bathroom, which was rather more opulent. In his left hand, Marat still holds a handwritten note, while in his right hand, a quill. Nearby is the bloody knife that the assassin, Charlotte Corday had used to stab him through the chest. David belonged to the same political party as Marat, and this painting clearly serves as political propaganda. Once the Revolution was over, David’s political fortunes rose and fell, (he served a short time in prison, and then as the president!) But, he eventually aligned himself with a new power: Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled over France from 1804 to 1815, and became an important patron for David.

The Death of Marat (1793), an oil painting by French artist Jacques-Louis David, depicts a revolutionary politician who had been murdered in his bath during the French Revolution.


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