When Jacques-Louis David came along in the late eighteenth century he said goodbye to the flamboyant excesses of the popular Rococo style and ushered in a new era of Neoclassicism. David loved the Renaissance artists, seeing them as creators of perfect and beautiful forms, hated the superficiality of Rococo techniques, and enthused about Greek art, even though he had never actually seen any first hand.
David lived in a turbulent time of history. He was a fervent supporter of the French Revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy. As the politics of the time became more and more tumultuous, David began to turn away from re-working classical subjects to depicting the actual political events of his time. As seen through the eyes of an ardent revolutionary let us hasten to add. He became a pseudominister of propaganda for the Jacobins, and his paintings can be seen as conveying the same messages as his political pageants, ceremonies, and pamphlets.
This painting, The Death of Marat, is probably David’s most famous, depicting the assassination of his revolutionary friend Jean-Paul Marat. He was murdered by a woman, Charlotte Corday, from an opposing political party, and her name can be seen on the piece of paper which Marat holds in his limp hand. Here, Marat is presented as a noble martyr, murdered for his service to the people and the state. Upon presenting the painting to the convention, David said “Citizens, the people were again calling for their friend; their desolate voice was heard: David, take up your brushes.., avenge Marat… I heard the voice of the people. I obeyed.”