Marat, a leader of the French Revolution of 1789, is portrayed just after being stabbed to death in his bath by a fervent revolutionist, Charlotte Corday. The faked letter of introduction with which she fraudulently entered his home is still held in the dead man's hand. 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. Both dagger on the floor and wound in the breast are barely visible in the shadow. In fact, emerging from a gray-white turban, the dead man's face--eyes closed, mouth partly smiling--appears calm, as in a gentle sleep. The inscription on the side of a wooden block makeshift desk reads "À Marat/David."


David visited his sick friend the day before the murder. As well as an historic record, this portrait is a tribute to and testimony of the artist's grief over a personal friend. The suggestions of martyrdom and spirituality are achieved by the simplicity and austerity of the composition. Lazarus-like, Marat rises from the long, narrow tub as if from a coffin.

Precursor to the tradition of remembrance photograph, the goal is not to hide death, but acknowledge it gently, particularly through the creation of lifelike appearances. (For a discussion of remembrance photographs, see Mindy Gough's essay, "Remembrance Photographs: A Caregiver's Gift for Families of Infants Who Die," in Grief and the Healing Arts: Creativity as Therapy, ed. S. L. Bertman, pp. 205-213; anthology annotated in this database).


Painted in 1793

Primary Source

Royal Beaux-Arts Museum of Belgium, Brussels