What can we learn about the French Revolution from  The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one of the most important elements about the French Revolution that can be brought out by David's portrait of Marat's death is the level of violence that was so intrinsic to the time period.  The French Revolution was a time period of savage violence, brutality in which people were murdered in heat of political passions but in cold blood.  David knew Marat well enough and was a political admirer of him to know that Marat's skin condition forced him to do much of his political writing while in the bathtub.  This logic helps tell us that the French Revolution's violence was intensely personal in its nature.  Marat killed while he is composing work for the cause is a reflection of the cruelty involved in the violence of the French Revolution.  The "cause" as something which people sacrifice their lives for is another element that comes out of David's work, as Marat is killed while writing.  This detail helps the reader understand that the French Revolution's real tragic condition was how many people died in the pursuit of its realization.   There is a betrayal motif evident in the portrait.  The stabbing of a defenseless man who is writing for a cause larger than himself, the dagger on the floor, as well as open nature of Marat's hands, help to convey the idea that Marat's betrayal is a part of the French Revolution.  To understand the human element of abandonment of bonds to another and the emotional estrangement which compels one human being to murder another is a part of understanding the French Revolution.  This is conveyed through the portrait.

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