What can we learn about Revolutionary France, the artist(Jacques-Louis David), and the depicted event of the painting, The Death of Marat?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The French painter, Jacques-Louis David, was the great painter of the French Revolution. A friend of Robespierre, Jacques-Louis David became, in fact, the dictator of arts as his severe and taut compositions extolled selfless civic virtues.  During the Reign of Terror, David abolished the Academy and set up the Institute in its place.

His famous painting, The Death of Marat, became the image of the Reign of Terror, immortalizing both Marat and David. In his Neoclassical style, David creates a political martyr with the portrait of Marat dead in his soothing bath. Upon viewing this painting, one critic remarked,

"the face expresses a supreme kindness and an exemplary revolutionary spirit carried to the point of sacrifice."

David  sets the light upon his martyr who appears much like a Chrisi figure just taken down from the cross. In a darker, though sharper, light is the petition from the murdress. As a friend of Marat, David portrays him with a certain poignancy, healing his skin in death and glorifying the man responsible for the deaths of many. 

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