Friday, May 21, 2010

The Death of Marat




The above painting is world famous, David's The Death of Marat.  It is a fine example of revolutionary iconography - the radical Marat, in death, has become a secular martyr. Some commentators have pointed out the similarity to Michealangelo's Pieta - Marat's serene face and his wounds remind us of the Christ who has died in order to save us.  The note in Marat's hand, given to him by his killer, Charlotte Corday, renforces David's  message that Marat, the revolutionary saint, died in the service of others.


Some years ago, with some students of mine, I decided to try to find the room in Paris where the actual murder of Marat took place. I located the place where Charlotte Corday bought the knife that would become the murder weapon. It was at this spot, in the Palais Royal. (Three of my students served as models.)


Later we stopped at the building which once housed Marat's newspaper, the notorious The People's Friend , infamous for publishing his calls for more heads of aristocrats.  It looks innocent enough today and gives no outward sign of its past.





Then we crossed the road to find the site where radical faction, the Cordeliers Club, used to meet in a former church.  It was here that Danton and Marat would meet their comrades. (My friend, the artist Paul Smith served as model.)



And then, just a few steps further along the former rue de Cordeliers, I pushed open a huge door and entered a courtyard.  It was here that Marat once lived and once died.  I had to wait for a break in the proceedings, but then I entered the space that housed the friend of the people.  And this is what it looks like:



Alas, no bath to be seen - instead, an interactive whiteboard.  No upstairs either, Marat's room has vanished.  But it was at this spot that Charlotte Corday killed Marat in his bath.  He had once been a surgeon, dedicated to saving people's lives.  He died a revolutionary who sent many to their deaths.  Perhaps, therefore, it is not simply ironic, but also just, that the place where he was killed has become a lecture hall of the College of Medicine at the University of Paris.


See also my post on Vik Muniz's Modern Marat.

15 comments:

  1. What an intriguing story! I admit that I had to look up Marat on Wikipedia! Murder, betrayal and intrigue - very interesting indeed.

    One of the things I like so much about London is that there are purple plaques erected everywhere to point out historical sites.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comment Emm. London is amazing like that. Paris has many plaques as well, of various colours, but it is fun to search out the places that don't have plaques e.g. the Cordeliers Club has a plaque, but Marat's house does not.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Did you note any of the addresses? Apparently I live right around the corner from Marat's flat but I do not know which number.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Today the street is called rue de l'Ecole des Medecine. Marat's house is number 20. There is a plaque on the wall of the building next door to Sarah Bernhardt. On the other side of the door there is a little cafe called Cafe de Cordeliers. At number 15 you will find the building where the Cordeliers Club used to meet. Have a look. Enjoy it. Let me know if you find it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Really interesting, was just Googling to find out where his house would be in modern Paris. I read once that the Musee Grevin exhibit of Charlotte Corday and Marat uses the actual knife and bath tub. Haven't got round to visiting the Grevin yet to see if they make any mention of this fact...

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've never been to the Grevin, so thanks for this tip Steve. I'll have to check it out.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Still haven't been to the Grevin but did find this online that 'confirms' the tale of the bath tub. Although I guess the Grevin themselves would say this...

    "The French revolution was the first theme depicting French history chosen by Gabriel Thomas, President of the Grévin Museum from 1883 to 1930. The three-dimensional reproduction of Jacques-Louis David's famous painting was produced in 1889.

    This treasured possession survived the Grévin's own history. At the time the museum was entirely renovated in 2001, unlike the other decors, this scene was kept, although with a different presentation and you can see it now in the Grévin's Dome.

    How did the Grévin acquire the Marat bathtub?

    Father Rio, Dean of the parish of Sarzeau, inherited it from an old maid, Mademoiselle de Saint-Hilaire, a catholic and a royalist, who died in 1862. She remembered in full detail that her father had bought the tub around 1805 from a scrap iron merchant in the rue d'Argenteuil. The relic was first housed in the rectory attic, but finished in an outhouse next to the barnyard, or so we are told.

    On July 15th 1885, the newspaper the 'Figaro' revealed the whereabouts of the bathtub. The Sarzeau priest accepted the offer made by Gabriel Thomas, at the time President of the Grévin Museum, after lengthy negotiations, for the price of 5,000 Francs."


    http://www.grevin.com/en/jean-paul-marat

    ReplyDelete
  8. That's a great bit of information Steve. Thanks a million.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hello! I'm gathering for myself (quite a lot of) informations about the remains of the French revolution. Your infos were really helpful - but I'm still looking for further infos about Marat's Room (were he was murdered). I know that location changed since the time of the revolution - nevertheless you took a picture of the or a room. So I have a few question:

    1) I know the address. It seems to be a part of the todays medicine faculty building. Do you have even more precise information about how to get to that room? I can find - I think - the courtyard on GoogleMap. But how to go on for there? Which door? Which direction? Where in the building is that particular place/room?

    2) Is it possible to get into that building a an ordinary person?

    3) How did you figure out which of the rooms is the one where Marat's (bath) room used to be? In the Internet I you were the best "source" for this. Is there a sign?

    Thx in adavance!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment. I hope this will help. You can simply push open the door and walk into the courtyard, it is usually open during the daytime. Or you push the button/bell and then push open the door once the concierge releases the lock. When you are in the courtyard, Marat's house is the door on the right on the ground floor. It leads into a lecture hall. If there is a lecture going on you have to wait for a break. If the door is locked, you could, I suppose ask at the office. The office is on the left, ground floor. I have been there three or four times now with student groups, lingered for quite a while, but no one has ever thrown me out.
      I searched for ages before I finally found the actual adress. I think I found it in Thirza Valois' three volume guide to Paris: Around and About in Paris. After I located the adress I just pushed the door open and was left with the problem which door was Marat's. I asked at the office, and they immediately pointed it out to me. you are right, it is now part of the medical school of the university. I hope this helps you.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your specific information. That help me a lot. One last question: Do you also have similar knowledge about the other figures of the revolution? To be much more precise: I'm looking for the place where Danton was arrested on 30 March 1794. There is hardly any information about this. In one book I found a hint: "Hôtel Mouliné". But I can't find any other details/confirmation: No idea if this is correct or where that buildiung stood (or today's address). Maybe you know more about this issue. Anyway: Thanks for your help!

      Delete
    3. Actually I though Danton was arrested in his house. The site of his house is not far from Marat's house. It is on the Boulevard Saint Germain, at Odeon. There is a huge statue of Danton on the site of where his house used to be - you cannot miss it. Right opposite the statue, and acroos the Boulevard, it the entrance to a little laneway. you walk under an archway, into the cobbled street. On this little street Marat has his newspaper, The People's Friend. Further down the street is the back entrance to the Cafe Procope (the main entrance is on Rue Ancient Comedienne). this is the oldest cafe in Paris and Robespierre and Danton did meet here.
      The revolutinary Desmoulins also lived in this neighbourhood. He was arrested at home, the same night as Danton. Tom Paine also lived on Desmoulin's street. The street runs from the Danton statue down to the Theatre Odeon. Paine's house is half way down the street on the right - there is a plaque.Desmoulin's house is near the end of the street, near the theatre, on your right. There is a plaque high on the wall - the first or second floor.
      Good luck with finding these.

      Delete
    4. The house where Marat lived was demolished in 1876

      Delete
    5. See in more Paris
      By Augustus John Cuthbert Hare page 392

      Delete
    6. I have a copy of August John Cuthbert Hare's Walks in Paris, and I've just checked page 392 and it doesn't mention Marat. Do I have a different edition than you I wonder? My edition is from 1888. It is called Walks in Paris, but you say In More Paris - is that a different book? I don't know of that title. In either case, I'm aware that this is not the actual building of Marat. I can see that the building is entirely different than when he lived there - that is why I say in my post that we enter the space (not the house) where he was killed and why I say it was at this spot (not house) that Charlotte Corday killed Marat in his bath. Thanks for you comment - I would love to get the direct quote from the book if you could.

      Thanks a million.

      Delete