The artist has striped the painting to its bare essentials in which the artist created a powerful and moving image with a tragic solemnity of the Pieta. A gruesome subject to depict.
The artist has commorated an event.
Created a portrait of a martyr.
A dying man in a graceful and heroic pose against a stark setting. In his hand he holds a bloody note.
This reminds us of Michelangelo’s Pieta.
Three quarters of the gray-brown bathtub is covered by a wooden board. The background, shades of gray, is entirely bare. Warm yellow light further softens the horror of the scene.
Formal Analysis of The Death of Marat
- Orthogonal construction: gift of eternity and no death
- Writing: the way to stop time
- The money: way to understand how Marat helped poor people
- Dark background: death darkness, but Marat survives, though a man dies his public image is eternal. The darkness is behind the
protagonist, and we can feel the gaze of Marat!
So (for David) Marat lives forever.
To understand this artwork there are essentially two aspects to consider: first the style used by David, i.e. Neo-classicism, and secondly the artist’s purpose, i.e. turning Marat into a hero of high moral virtues according to the classical tradition. Neoclassicism as the name says was essentially a rediscovery of classical art from the Greek and Roman time. This style prescribed rigorous contours, sculptured forms, and polished surfaces and was based on ideals of harmony and austerity. The composition is in fact arranged according to the classical principle of the golden section, a combination of horizontal lines (the bathtub edges, the top of the side table and the ledge where Marta’s head is resting) and vertical lines (the side table, the folds of the white cloth and the imaginary line that passes through Marat’s nose, down his right arm continuing in the fold of the cloth just under his elbow). Horizontal lines suggest a feeling of rest or repose because objects parallel to the earth are at rest . Quill pen and inkwell symbolize Marat’s work as a journalist while on the paper he is holding there is the date of his death and the name of the murderer. Obviously these last two details are David’s additions to support his propaganda. Space
Despite being based on an actual event, David has carefully planned the scene. This painting is not concerned with realism, it is not meant to be a snapshot of how things went. We could say that David presents us with a “carefully staged death” as in theatre. The sense of space is reduced to a minimum as David is not preoccupied with the rendering of a perfect perspective of a room but he is rather interested in idealising Marat. The artwork is quite big (162cm x 128cm) as it was intended as an official commemorative painting. We know Marat had a skin condition and the only relief he could get was to lay in a bath from where he also used to work. The scene should then be set in a Marat’s bathroom. However, the room painted by David has nothing of a real bathroom: we can see just a bathtub. We do not know what is in the rest of the room, there is no door and no window. The back wall is empty and blocks the viewer’s eyes forcing him to focus on Marat in the foreground. Linear perspective is reduced to a minimum and can be seen for example in the representation of the tub which obviously needs to have a certain depth to host Marat’s body. Form
Marat’s body has no sign of the skin condition affecting him as David wanted instead to idealize his subject. Marat is shown in a classical position with his right arm and head taking opposed directions. It is reminiscent of Jesus’ position in the Descent from the cross by Van der Weyden (picture below).
The subject, although...