The Death of Marat: Body of Marat After His Assassination

The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David is a neoclassicist artwork portraying the death of the French leader Marat as a tribute to him.

The Death of Marat

Last weekend, I watched the series Midnight Club. Some of you might have already seen it so you might think, wasn’t I late enough to watch it? The truth is, I missed it earlier, and I felt it was the best time to watch it because of the scorching heat, which unabled me to go anywhere and do something. As for the series: it was a good one because of the love and the bond of friendship between the characters. I was really intrigued by the midnight meeting when everyone shared stories and built good communication between them. Also, the basement was a better part to hang out instead of the creepy things. But between all these things, Anya’s death was the down in the dumps for the entire group and fans of the Midnight Club. Anya’s death made us think that it is crucial to realize that death is inevitable, and even if one thinks differently and does things in his/her own favour, he/she cannot really avoid it. Now, a lot of people might anticipate death differently, but the most vulnerable depiction of death, which an artist painted in the beloved memory of his friend, is The Death of Marat. So, let us read what inspired Jacques-Louis David to paint such paintings and a few more insiders.

General Information.

1. Artist’s Statement.

“In the arts, the way in which an idea is rendered, and the manner in which it is expressed, is much more important than the idea itself.”

– Jacques louis David

One of the quotes which define the painting in a few words is from a French poet, Charles Baudelaire, where he says,

“This work contains something both poignant and tender; a soul is taking flight in the chill air of this room, within these cold walls, around this cold funerary tub.”

He further writes,

“The drama is here, vivid in its pitiful horror. This painting is Davids’s masterpiece and one of the great curiosities of modern art, because, by a strange feat, it has nothing trivial or vile What is most surprising in this very unusual visual poem is that it was painted very quickly. When one thinks of the beauty of the lines, this quickness is bewildering.”

2. Subject Matter.

The subject of the canvas of The Death of Marat is a man, Marat, one of the most powerful men in France. Louis portrayed him as a martyred hero, positioning him in the tub. A murder weapon, a sheet with red stains, and writing material as a letter are among the items found near the Marat with traces of blood which Jacques had created as a tender tribute to his friend.

The Death of Marat by Jacques Louis David
The Death of Marat by Jacques Louis David | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

I will let you know every symbol and element in the subject matter in the following sections.

3. Artist.

Jacques-Louis David, who was a leading Neoclassical painter in Europe, and drew inspiration from his turbulent times, painted The Death of Marat.

Born in Paris, France, he trained under Joseph-Marie Vien. In 1774, the artist won the Prix de Rome, which let him study further in Italy. With five years spent there, he absorbed the traditions of ancient classical art. On returning to Paris, he developed a potent vision of the antique. With the themes from Greek and Roman history, Jacques painted a series of canvases which showed virtues of moral rectitude, courage and self-sacrifice.

4. Date.

The artwork dates back to 1793.

5. Provenance.

The stark yet moving picture is the depiction of the mourning of a close friend of Jacques. There is a story behind this artwork, which I am gonna tell you in brief. The victim, Jean-Paul Marat, was a leading member of the National Convention, a short-lived governing body in France during the Reign of Terror. Due to his extreme views, his number of enemies never lacked.

On July 13, 1793, a woman named Charlotte Corday was granted an audience with him in the bathroom. Now, you might think, why in the bathroom? So the reason is that he suffered from a debilitating skin condition, which required Marat to bathe frequently, so he also used the bath as an office. That day, she pulled a knife and stabbed him to death, saying at her trial,

“I killed one man to save 100,000 lives”.

As a part of Marat’s funeral, Jacques painted his painting with a deep message behind it. We will learn about it in later sections. The artist celebrated the Marat in a heroic image, forever connected with the new republican era. The Death of Marat painting is not just a display of death but an ideological core of the work, expressed by Jacques through text and language of colours. The character of the paintings holds aesthetic and cultural implications.

6. Location.

The painting is in Musees Royaux Des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium.

7. Technique and Medium.

The Death of Marat uses Neoclassicism style. With a smooth, polished surface and a sculptural appearance, Jacques shows the reminiscences of the antique statuary of Romans. With a classical relief, Jacques highlighted the most crucial elements of the composition through theatric lighting. The medium of the painting is oil on canvas.

ArtistJacques-Louis David
Year Painted1793
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions165 x 128 cm
WorthPriceless, Not on sale
Where is it housed?Musees Royaux Des beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium

The Death of Marat | Fast Knowledge

The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David is a Neoclassical portrait of the artist’s friend and French leader, Jean-Paul Marat. Painted in 1793, it subjects Marat’s assassinated body, positioned in a bathtub with several elements, such as a knife and a letter shown in the composition, making it an elaborate depiction after Marie-Anne Charlotte Corday murdered him.

In-Depth Description of The Death of Marat.

About the Artist: Jacques-Louis David.

After Jacques’s father died in a duel, his uncles Jacques Francois Demaisons and Francois Buron, both architects, raised him. The first training Jacques received from 1766 to 74 was under painter Joseph-Marie Vien, who taught at the Academie Royale. Then in 1774, he won the Prix de Rome, letting him study in Italy for five years until 1780. He devoted himself entirely to exploring classical art, and when he returned from Paris, Jacques painted historical and mythological subjects.

Self portrait Jacques-Louis David
Self portrait, Jacques-Louis David | Source: Obelisk Art History

In 1781, Jacques became an associate member of the academy, through the picture Belisarius Begging for Alms, an aroused great admired composition. Around 1784, Jacques painted the Oath of the Horatii to a commission from Louis XIV.

Belisarius Begging for Alms by Jacques Louis David
Belisarius Begging for Alms by Jacques Louis David | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

In 1791, Jacques got elected to the National Convention, later becoming the Committee of Public Safety member. While he was involved in politics, Jacques intensely backed Robespierre and voted for the execution of the King, but after July 27, the coup d’etat of 9 Thermidor 1794, when Robespierre was overthrown, Jacques gave himself to the painting again. And in 1797, he met Napolean, who let him paint several commissions for himself, including one of the famous Coronation of the Emperor.

The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David
The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Jacques is one of the initiators of Neoclassicism, and his paintings Oath of the Horatti or The Sabines showed an enormous impact and determined a shift in the artistic taste of the period. Being one of the earliest intellectual artists in the modern sense, he played direct roles in political events and civil life while reflecting a creative activity.

Oath of the Horatii Jacques-Louis David
Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

History and Background of the Artwork.

On July 13, 1793, Jean-Paul Marat, a deputy Montagnard faction and an extremely popular journalist, was attacked and murdered by Girodin’s sympathiser from Caen. In order to fully comprehend The Death of Marat painting, we must know more about this particular event. So, let me narrate to you the entire story behind this.

But before that, let me decode the scenario with the characters participating in the event- the victim and attacker.

Who Was Jean-Paul Marat (The Victim)?

Born in Switzerland in 1743, Marat was a brilliant student and spent the years 1792-65 in Paris studying medicine, followed by ten years in England and Scotland, practising as a doctor. During this time, he started his career as a writer, with several essays narrating the nature of the human soul, and a few publications on electricity and optics. After his practice, he returned to Paris in 1776 and was appointed a doctor to the troops in the household of the King’s brother, the Comte d’ Artois. But his first bout of serious illness in 1782 caused him to leave this employment. That time he vowed that on recovery, he would devote himself to serving the cause of liberty. Thus, in L’Offrande a la Patrie, Marat addressed the French people about the upcoming estate’s general elections and the tone and language of the king’s summons to address the people’s misery.

Jean-Paul Marat
Jean-Paul Marat by Joseph Boze | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

In September 1789, he started publishing L’Ami du Peuple, first called Le Publiciste, where he exposed conspiracies, traitors and plots to warn the dangers. He named himself the eye of the people and denociateur patriote. And in September 1792, he became the Paris deputy to the National Convention. Due to his works and the misconception of the Girodins, who believed Marat wanting to become a dictator, his newspaper and Marat was an object of attack by them and their followers.

Who Was Marie-Anne Charlotte Corday (The Assassin)?

Born in Normandy in 1768, Charlotte lived in Caen at the time of the outbreak of the Revolution. She was a firm believer of Girondin, who chose to leave Paris after their moderate views became less acceptable in the spring of 1793. During this same period from April, Charlotte was planning to kill Marat, due to which she is regarded as the real enemy of the French. She believed that through the assassination of Marat, she could bring peace to France.

Charlotte Corday (c. 1860) painting by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry
Charlotte Corday (c. 1860) painting by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Now, that you know a little bit about the characters of the event, let us learn about the incident in detail.

Marat used to face a skin complaint problem which aggravated in such a way that he used to take frequent baths. Now, on the other hand, Corday, who laid these plans of his assassination Marat, spent weeks on working this goal ever since she heard the speeches of Caen of Charles-Jean-Marie Barbaroux de Marseille, former Girondin deputy for the department of the Bouches-du-Rhone to the National Convention. As per his speeches, he declared Marat the real enemy of the French nation and incited the people of Normandy to march on Paris and deliver from these. On July 11, Corday arrived in Paris with this mission and booked herself a cheap hotel, realizing that the only place to kill Marat was at home. The next day, she wrote a speech to the French people, L’Adresse aux Francais, to explain her motives and intention to kill Marat.

Now, on 13th July, she reached his space, and after hearing an exchange, Marat agreed to see the citizenship from Caen.

Marat probably was seated in a sabot-shaped bathe in a small room adjoining his bedroom and wore an old dressing gown over his shoulder. In Jacques’ depiction, he did not wear this gown but instead presented his head with a cloth wrapped around it. Marat used to wear a white cloth soaked in vinegar for relief from his skin disease. On the bath, Marat had a wooden surface used as a writing surface, and a wall behind his sitting included a shelf with pair of pistols and a map of France. Now the artist eliminated all of these details of decoration and personal possessions and chose to show only the work necessities of Marat.

So, back on the event, as Corday entered, she gave him news of uprisings in Caen and the names of the Girondists responsible- at which point he assured her, according to her testimony, that they would be guillotined in few days. Now enraged with this, Corday drew the knife from her clothing and plunged it hard into Marat’s chest. In response, the victim withdrew it and flung it away from her. The ending words of Marat calling Simone were,

“a moi, a moi, ma chere amie, je me meurs.”

With this event, Jacques wanted to give his beloved friend a tribute, causing him to paint, The Death of Marat.

Understanding Death of Marat Meaning.

With the Marat’s arm hanging down by his side in the composition, Jacques showed the effect of the attribute of the martyr with a blood-stained sheet, upended box, inkwell, papers and will concern the work of Marat. If one looks closer at the artwork, one might notice the artist’s attempt to create a single moment of suspense.

Subject Matter and Elements of Jacques-Louis David’s Artwork.

I am dividing the entire painting into several elements, which would help you understand the artwork easily.

The Death of Marat painting
The Death of Marat | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

1. Marat.

As you already know, Marat was one of the most powerful and crucial people in France during the Revolution. His publication or radical paper railed numerous enemies of the state. In the depiction of Marat, David showed him as a martyred hero. He carefully removed all his blemished and discolouration from his skin, which hinted at his skin problem. Making him look younger than his 50 years of age, he tried to show him accurately. Marat, in the bathtub with his one arm out, has a curved slopping downwards through his body. In his other hand, Marat holds the scattered pieces of paper. His head is rolled over the farthest. One can notice that the theme to depict Marat is somewhat similar to the representation of the martyred saints.

If one looks closer, one might see that the top of the canvas seems dark and impenetrable space, and the first object in the picture one sees is the head of Marat, placed exacty halfway down. It is the prime focus of the picture. With a cloth wrapped around his head, the artist shows the ease of his discomfort through the skin complaint of Marat.

2. Traces of Blood.

The artist intended to pay a tender tribute to his beloved, but he also wanted to exhibit the horror of death. So, he used a violent aspect of his subject and sprinkled the blood on the sheet. Similarly, one can notice it on the chest of Marat but largely hidden in the shadows. It does not appear that the stab wound in his chest was fatal. Rather, the blood in the bathwater is the most gruesome indicator of the attack. Nevertheless, David minimizes the effect by taking a low viewpoint that allows only a thin streak of blood to be seen.

3. Murder Weapon.

One can see the knife on the floor as if Corday dropped it and instantly fled. But in fact, she did not as she waited to get arrested. The artist did not show the weapon inside the victim’s chest as that would undermine the sense of heroic martyrdom on the canvas.

And the painting completes with a block of wooden stab with A Marat David written over it, a few letters, pens and quills over it.

Now that you understand the painting, let us move to the formal analysis of the artwork, The Death of Marat.

Learning The Death of Marat Analysis.

1. Line.

The composition, Death of Marat shows curves of the Marat’s body with sloping and downward diagonals, suggesting collapse. The entire artwork has diagonal lines, showing instability and heightening the drama of the scenario. The head of Marat is exactly down with a diagonal position to the ground.

The Death of Marat Analysis
Line Analysis of The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David, Horizontal lines (green), Diagonal lines (red), Curved line (blue dotted)

2. Light and Value.

There is the presence of catastrophic use of light and shadows in the composition. For instance, look at the face of the Marat and a few of his body parts, which adores brightness. However, through shadows and lights, the artist creates a subtle message. The hand with a letter is brighter in comparison to the chest wounds and the knife on the ground.

Light and Value of The Death of Marat Painting
Black and White version of The Death of Marat Painting

3. Colour.

The colour of The Death of Marat is strictly subordinate to form. Colours show a definite shape and echoes of simplicity. There is a usage of white and brown in the predominant position, whereas a dark brown in the background provides murky obscurity behind the event. The green of the cloth is an unusual colour, which shows a restful tone with blood reds as the more telling.

Conclusions and Opinions.

Jacques stages the canvas compellingly and authentically. David’s colleague’s reactions to this painting,

“The expressed horror… permeates the whole canvas, which proves that the forceful and skilful touch fo the artist would not have been sufficient in itself; it needed that ardent love of country that impassions the artist… It is difficult to look at it for any length of time, its effect is so powerful.”

Though the The Death of Marat is a tribute to a beloved friend, the controversiality of its subject remains a challenging option.


1. Jacques-louis David’s Marat by Vaughan, Willian, 1943.

2. Great Painting: The World’s Masterpieces Explored and Explained.

3. The Great Masters of European Art by Bonsanti, Girogio, Casu, Stefano G; Franchi, Elena; Franci, Andrea.

4. Jacques-louis David by Brookner, Anita.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What does The Death of Marat symbolize?

The painting Death of Marat symbolizes the terror, fright and pitiful horror of painful death along with the crowning achievements of Marat professionally. Furthermore, it is also a tribute to the friendship between the artist for his beloved friend, Marat.

What was Marat David’s cause of death?

Marat David was murdered, and the cause of death was a stabbing by knife. Charlotte Corday, who was planning his murder for so long, gained entrance to his house by promising that she had news of his opponents or enemies of the revolution. As Marat agreed to meet her up, she stabbed him with a knife.

Why was Marat in his bathtub?

Marat had a severe skin problem which left it itchy and blistered. To overcome this sensation, he would dampen the cloth with vinegar, run across his head and take meetings in his bathroom, sitting in a bathtub.

Who painted The Death of Marat?

Jacques-Louis David, a Neoclassical artist, painted The Death of Marat in 1793, portraying the French leader Jean-Paul Marat after Charlotte Corday killed him. The painting is a tribute to a friend, and the artist depicted him at a younger age with a theme identical to a saint and a martyred hero.

What does the painting Death of Marat depict?

As the name suggests, the painting depicts Jean-Paul Marat’s dead body, holding a letter in his right hand and positioned in a bathtub. Further, Jacques depicted the murder weapon, a knife, on the floor, making it a dramatic and horror composition of death.

Why did Charlotte Corday Kill Marat?

Marie-Anne Charlotte Corday was a firm believer of Girondin, who carried moderate views and considered Marat wanting to become a dictator after he started a publication to expose conspiracies and threats against the nation. Following this, Charlotte Corday killed Marat to bring Peace to France, at least what she believed.


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