Thursday, November 21, 2013

Neoclassicism (pt. 5)

Another most immediately recognizable change seen in Post-Revolutionary art is its stark seriousness.  You can't get more opposite to Rococo.  Coming out of the licentiousness of the past age, the Neoclassics would turn to much more somber themes and serious paintings.  Remember Fragonard's The Swing?  Just two decades later, Jacques-Louis David painted this.
Dark, grim, not altogether colorful, and even somewhat macabre at first glance, this painting is of The Death of Marat.  David, as we know, was very much involved in politics.  He was the one who sketched the Oath of the Tennis Court and took part in the Revolution.  Jean-Paul Marat was a major figure of the French Revolution, a man of the people, and a person whom David looked up to.  In 1793, Marat was assassinated; he was stabbed to death in his bathtub at his home.  Marat suffered from a unique skin disease that required him to spend many hours soaking in his tub and wearing a towel wrapped around his head to further remedy the ailment.  The assassin, a young woman named Charlotte Corday, was caught, tried, and executed, and I learned that the actual bathtub in which the killing took place is said to be on display at the Musée Grévin in Paris.  Yuck.
David painted this as a tribute to the man.  The bottom inscription in French dedicates the painting to Marat.  As for the painting itself, this is a good example of propaganda, painted in such a way as to generate sympathy for the death of this noble-looking man.  His corpse lies over the side of the tub, his face half-smiling in peaceful wisdom and his hand holding up a note which describes in French how he must suffer for the betterment of society.  Rather than gruesome or gory, the painting shows a "clean" death without lots of blood so as to soften viewers to the scene, not appall them.  We see the assassin's knife left at the bottom of the tub, and we are meant to feel pity for this man.  The dramatic lighting makes him even almost sculpturesque.  Marat is like the Dying Gaul of Ancient Greek and Roman art history.  This painting seeks to make a martyr out of him and does so in a very Romantic way.  Romanticism is already beginning to arrive onto the art stage right now, but we will look at that art movement later as it becomes more prevalent.

No comments:

Post a Comment