In my 19th Century Art History course, we have been discussing a variety of movements and themes during the time. One movement that I appreciate is the Neoclassical. Characteristics of the Neoclassical include; attention to form, dramatic lighting/highlighting, emphasis on the foreground and depictions of the elite.
Artist Jacques-Louis David is a well known for his composition, The Death of Marat. It is in the Neoclassical style and depicts the horrible events happening in France during the Reign of Terror. The figure in the work is depicted as Jean Marat, who was a man that stood up for the Revolution. He is shown lying lifeless, slumped over the side of a tub. It was known that majority of the time Marat would have been found in a tub. This was due to a skill condition which required him to take medicated baths to treat his skin.
There is tenebrism in this work which casts a dramatic spotlight over Marat’s body. There is no real background to this work, only darkness. David created a lot of detail an emphasis on Marat’s body. Through the lighting and body language the viewer is able to focus on this somber moment in Marat’s life. The viewer is also up front and personal with Marat being that he is placed in the very front of the composition.
David’s depiction of Marat is meant to reinforce the cause of the Revolution. Marat was murdered Charlotte Corday, and the aftermath of that murder is the composition. Marat was stabbed and his bath water has turned a rich red. the knife for which he was stabbed with is peaking out of the bottom left of the composition. Marat is also holding a letter from Charlotte. David created an image of a vulnerable martyr that was able to represent the Revolution.