The Death of Marat

The Death of Marat

The Death of Marat
Jacques-Louis David

For this particular painting, both its context as well as iconography is extensive. One cannot talk about nor appreciate Jacques-Louis David’s painting, The Death of Marat, without talking about the French Revolution, the National Convention, absolute monarchy, aristocracy, and the general political structure of France at the time this painting was done.

In the 18th century, France was under the reign of an absolute monarchy ruled by King Louis XVI. King Louis XVI inherited the throne over France, a realm that was already nearly bankrupt because of spending on wars, loss of control over aristocrats who refused to be taxed, and many other luxuries. While the country’s huge debt and suffering economy were not entirely the fault of King Louis XVI, the people desperately needed a strong, decisive, conservative leader at that time - King Louis XVI was none of these.

After King Louis XVI was crowned, the economy continued to decline very quickly. Crops failed due to harsh weather, and the price of bread soared. The rising price of bread meant that poor people had to go hungry since bread had been the main staple of meals among the poor people. To top it off, the people were angry that King Louis XVI had married Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette was considered a foreigner to the French because she was from Austria, a country they hated. (France declared war with Austria in 1792.) Because King Louis did not have the fortitude to tax the more privileged classes (nobility), the Parliament advised the Estates-General to assemble, which was the first time this had happened in 150 years.

The Estates-General was a body of representatives from each group of society: the Clergy was the 1st Estate, royalty was the 2nd Estate, and commoners were the 3rd Estate. However, the 3rd Estate strayed from its agenda - an agenda which should have been focused on fixing the tax problem. Instead it decided that the people...

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