Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Death of Marat by Jacques Louis David: The Propaganda Tool

Self-portrait by Jacques-Louis David
Propaganda is a mechanism that utilizes the biased promotion for the sake of persuasion. Due to its biased nature, propaganda can be tacky, ascending from the covers of the tabloid magazines, or can be exquisite, like the paintings by Jacques Louis David. Living in the 18th century France, David was a painter who was an active supporter of the French Revolution and the key dictator of the arts, or, in other words, propaganda at the time. But was he a genius of propaganda? 

For the sake of destruction of the monarchic rule, David remained in the country with his powerful ambition, admiration of the classical ideals and devotion to republican government. David sought Roman Empire's rebirth as a New France, France where Revolution can make a difference and unite social classes, ultimately obliterating the French monarchy. His beliefs embodied the unique art movement, Neoclassicism where the prevalence of polished surface, diligent contours and carefully sculpted forms, created astounding pieces of art that were intended as moral epitomes. 

In my opinion, one of the most powerful pieces of Neo-classicism art with a strong political propagandizing message is The Death of Marat. The subject matter, Jean-Paul Marat, was a friend of Louise David, radical journalist and politician who was one of the most powerful men in Revolutionary France. He ran a biased newspaper called L’Ami du Peuple (or Friend of the People in translation), in which the author published lists that revealed so-called enemies of the people, not much regarding the reasons why whose people were the so-called enemies; thus, he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people due to creating those enemy-lists. Moreover, by some 18th century contemporary accounts, Marat was an unattractive man who suffered from the chronic skin disease, therefore was prescribed with sitting in the bath tubes, such as the one that is pictured on the painting by Louis David. 

The Death of Marat 

The very first impression I perceive while looking at the artwork is fear. The subject, the body of Jean-Paul Marat that is slumped in his bath, is captured in the moment of agonizing death; his expression reveals the sense of dread and pain due to being suddenly assassinated by the opposing party member, supposedly, a monarchic supporter, Charlotte Corday.

Frankly, I believe that the position of the dead body shows a hidden message due to being portrayed in the position of the dead Christ as being taken down from the cross. Such position utilized as a propaganda tool in order to show the righteousness of the French Revolution, and how the Revolutionary devotee was murdered allegedly for making the good acts that were viewed as crime, the same as once the Christ died on the cross for his right deeds which were, however, condemned. Therefore, Marat is painted as an idealized saint who looks younger than his 50 years, and the skin disease has not so much relevance in the portrayal of the ideal features; on the painting, Marat is a victim
The Position of Christ on the Painting by Caravaggio

The evidence of the murderess is implied in the bloody knife and the letter of introduction, which Marat is tightly gripping in his left hand. His assassin's letter which which, in reality, never existed says: "July 13, 1793. Marieanne Charlotte Cordray to Citizen Marat. Because I am unhappy I have the right to call on your goodwill." 

In contrast to the note, there is another letter lying on the top of the rough crate. The letter serves as visual clue, again clearly showing the favorable propaganda of the French revolutionary movement; in the latter, the widow who lost her husband is requesting a donation for the sake of helping her 5 children children. The banknote that is placed on the the side of the letter suggests that Marat was about to give a donation to a suffering woman. However, with no evidence, in real life, that Marat was actually a charitable man, on the painting it is evident that he is alacrative and eager to submit the donation to the poor woman, but the murdered stripped Marat of the right to commit a kind deed by killing him in cold blood. Now, it becomes clear that the French Revolution is initiated for the sake of supporting the lower social classes and is willing to accomodate the needs of those who can't afford the basic necessities. 

Therefore, according to all my cultural analysis, I believe that Jacques Louis David was a genius of his craft, not only in painting but ultimately in propaganda. Just by analyzing the cultural context of one of his works of art, it is evident that the utilization of the revolutionary martyr clearly states his personal political convictions and compels his audience in his rightness of political ideals. 

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