Jean-Paul Marat was sitting in the bathtub when his last hour struck on July 13, 1793.
A teacher of languages, a journalist and a physician, Marat had turned out to be one
of the most radical demagogues the 1789 Revolution produced. He spent much time in the
tub to find relief from a chronic, itchy rash. He wore compresses on his forehead to
relieve headaches from which he also suffered. While he was bathing on that fateful day,
he was reading a letter from Charlotte Corday, the great-granddaughter of the playwright
Pierre Corneille. The young noblewoman had tried in vain to gain admittance to Marat. Now
she had sent him a letter in which she slyly suggested a tete-a-tete. He let her in and she
stabbed him. Marat died instantly.
Some contemporaries must have been pleased at the deed. Marat had been a tough customer.
He had had 860 gallows erected to deal with his political enemies and had sent over
200,000 of them to the guillotine. His opponents may have considered his death
a just revenge. His adherents, however, celebtated him as the martyr of a just cause.
Appointed master of ceremonies at the hero's funeral, painter Jacques-Louis David was
a fervent revolutionary and a personal friend of Marat. He obliged by putting Marat's
corpse on canvas just as he had had it put on display: with his bare chest and wounds
visible. On October 15, 1793 David presented the picture to the National Assembly. It
became the symbol of the French Revolution. Copies of it were placed on church altars,
smothered under billowing clouds of incense. Even in public offices copies of the painting
were supposed to replace Crucifixes and royal portraits. However, before it could get out
of hand, the personality cult was stopped by Robespierre's fall and the arrest of
Jacques-Louis David. On February 10 the painting was removed from the chamber of
the National Assembly.
I believe in Marat, the almighty, the Creator of freedom and equality, our hope,
who strikes terror into the aristocracy, who has gone forth from the heart of the
nation and is revealed in the Revolution, who was murdered by the enemies of the
Republic, who poured forth upon us the breath of freedom, who has descended into the
Elysian Fields, whence he will one day return to judge and condemn the aristocracy.
A contemporaneous anonymous "Creed"
(July 1793-February 1795)