Friday, 10 July 2015

Death of Marat with quill in hand

Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David, 1793; oil on canvas

In the famous painting by David, Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793), French revolutionary and one of the leaders of the Montagnards during the Reign of Terror, lies murdered in his bath on 13 July 1793. David, a Montagnard himself, painted Marat as a martyr, "writing for the good of the people".  A dramatic light illuminates the manuscript which Marat still grips even in death while his elongated right hand holds on to the quill. While the knife lies on the floor, the quill stands upright - the triumph of the written word over death. Another quill rests near the inkpot on the wooden desk near his bath-tub. While the head of Marat succumbing to death has collapsed backwards, the manuscript with his words points forwards to the future and his quill remains upright as if he is about to pass it on. The writing instrument triumphs over the instrument of death. Scripta manent.

The Death of Marat was briefly popular during the Terror but then was largely forgotten until its rediscovery in the 19th century. If the original letter complete with bloodstains and watermarks survived intact, the Death of Marat appeared in altered forms in paintings by Picasso and Munch and later on in films. Moving on with the times, Derek Jarman in his 1986 film Caravaggio depicts a Marat-type figure, the story teller, in his bath-tub head wrapped in towel writing on a Royal typewriter.

 Screenshots from Derek Jarman's Caravaggio (1986)

Jacques-Louis David painting The Death of Marat in his atelier
in Andrej Wajda's Danton (1983)

Death of Marat by Vik Muniz for his documentary Waste Land.
Marat was created from landfill waste.

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