Friday 3 December 2021

The Death of Marat


by Reed Venrick

spring water 



Within the hour of the crime, an out-

of-breath-messenger boy banging on

Jean-Louis Da-vid’s door. Even

brought along the blood-stained

letter that the assassin wrote. But

say what? Who was Charlotte Corday?

A woman living out her revolutionary


zeal so strongly, so naive, believing

that if she stabbed a writer of Jean-

Paul Marat’s renown that she would

make the world a better place in 1793.

Such was the fervor and zeal of a time

and place in France when people

rampaged the street—disgusted by royalty


and aristocracy and privileges of nobility,

an era when the hungry and the angry

stormed the prisons and broke the locks

of farm warehouses which stored barley

And grain and and ground it down with pestles

for all to eat, as they yelled: : “Fuck

the apathetic king and to hell with his


Austrian queen! For a change, let them

bake their royal cakes with chaff! For

what did Montesquieu say? There must

be separation of power in future government.”

And the painter Da-vid rushing down the broken

brick of that Parisian street, knowing he

would find Marat dead in his bathtub,


where Da-vid had visited just days before,

but even as he ran, visualizing how a dead

man knifed in the chest would lie limp

and soaked in his own blood. Da-vid, running

with a crazed mind, trying to imagine the chaos

of the revolution, yet already the picture

was forming in Da-vid’s mental frame how a


dead man might lie low and slumped in a tub

of bath water with a rusty knife in the chest.

The flowing light! Da-vid visualized in a flash.

The light must not be harsh. No, that would be

A mistake, the light must not glare. Yes, make

the light diffuse from a window, make the light

glow—like the ambience in Caravaggio’s


“Entombment of Christ.” Yes! Allow the right

arm to hang down in sorrow but powerful in

tranquility. Not too much blood flowing in the water,

for that could turn the harmony of an historic

“mise a scene” into only a display of horror.

Yet how does an artist position a dead man’s

head? Not with the face hung forward, no,


for a spectator in future generations could

not see the zeal and sincerity that Marat

had in his beatific face, nor must the hair be

Neatly combed back, as if it were in a normal state.

Had Marat not often worn a bandana around

his forehead with the cloth soaked in vinegar?

So why not turn Marat’s face to the side?


Yes, draw the face sideways, leaning on his arm,

as if he had merely gone to sleep. The dead

man’s eyes must be closed eyes and positioned

vertically, while an observer gazes horizontally

into the frame. Therefore, before Da-vid would paint

to finish during those hellish days of summer, 1793,

he knew he would make a painting that would shape


an era’s style, even change the historical paradigm.

After those who lived through the revolution were long

dead, here was a painting that showed the idealism

of Marat’s words, but also the knife that showed

The blood of what the revolution had become.


About the author 

Reed Venrick usually writes poems and stories with nature and/or aesthetic themes.





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