Sunday, November 13, 2011

Let's talk about Charlotte Corday.

Charlotte Corday, a young lady from Normandy, was executed for the bathtub murder of Jean-Paul Marat, a Revolutionary whom she felt needed to be reined in a bit.
Red was reserved for the clothing of those who had committed patracide.  Marat was considered by some to be a father of the people.  Thus, Charlotte's red dress.  "Put your red dress on..."  Isn't that a line in a song?

July 13, 1793 - Charlotte Corday takes justice into her own hands.

Posted by PicasaCharlotte Corday felt, rightly, that Jean-Paul Marat's writings were inciting her countrymen (and women) to violence that had begun to spin out of control.  She traveled from her home in Caen, to Paris, then gained entry to Marat's home under the pretense of giving him names of the, out of favor at this point in the Revolution, Girondins, in Caen.  After he told her that they'd be guillotined, she rose and stabbed him the chest.  She believed that she was saving France.  That's the simple version.  As with most events of the Revolution, the smallest details are available.  I'll add some of the more interesting tidbits as time permits.  

"I am the rage of the People."

 Marat found an outlet for his paranoia and rage in his publication "L'Ami du Peuple." Besides the violence he promoted and the vileness he spewed, some of his writings may have revealed part of what made him tick. It wasn't patriotism. Marat had been a scientist specializing in optics and electricity and physician. He, however, wasn't respected as much as he felt he deserved and suffered several rejections, including a painful one by the Academy of Royal Sciences. He became increasingly bitter and began to deteriorate mentally and physically. As the Revolution gathered speed, and he found his place as the author of the inflammatory, and effective, newspaper, he "began to breath in the hope of seeing humanity avenged and myself installed in the place which I deserved." He wrote that "from his earliest years, I was consumed with a love of glory." At one point, he had been a physician to the Comte d'Artois' guard. During this period, ending in 1785, he referred to himself as "the Chevalier Marat," and attempted to get an official confirmation of his nobility. He later described, in L'Ami du Peuple, the carriages lined in front of his house, the Kings that sought him out. It's almost enough to make one feel sorry for him.

Evidence that popularity isn't necessarily proof of worthiness nor quality.

Posted by PicasaMarat was wildly popular with the sans-cullottes, the radical Cordeliers, the mob.  He was less than socially acceptable, though.  In the words of Stanley Loomis, "in that sick and twitching face seemed written the past suffering and the approaching vengeance of all the beaten, rejected and despised.  Dressed in greasy rags, caked with filth, wracked by disease, Marat made the strongest tremble and the boldest keep his distance.  It was noticed that even the men of his own party chose not to sit too close to the reeking and unwashed figure of their leader, whose skin was covered by..., rumored among the ignorant to be, in fact, leprosy."  I can't bring myself to include the description of his skin.  You get the idea.

September Massacres

Posted by PicasaMarat was partially responsible for The September Massacres of 1792, in which  as many as 1400 imprisoned men, women, children and priests were killed.  Charlotte Corday was horrified at what was happening to her country.

The Friend of the People

Posted by PicasaMarat's inflammatory newspaper, L'Ami du Peuple, stained with his blood.

Not as quaint as a claw foot...

  According to several descriptions I've read, this is the type bathtub in which Marat met his end.  His actual bathtub ended up in Musee Grevin - a wax museum in Paris.  I bought this 1941 photo on eBay and plan to hang it in my freshly-painted bathroom.  Ben Franklin brought one of these copper lined behemoths back from Paris to Philadelphia, according to notes on the back of the picture.

This looks like a SNL version.

Charlotte Corday - painted by Hauer, at her trial and in her cell

Posted by PicasaWhen arrested she had "An Address to the French People" (and her baptismal certificate) pinned to her bodice:  "How long, oh, unhappy Frenchman, are you to suffer this trouble and disunion? Too long have scheming men and scoundrels put their ambition ahead of public interest.  Why, unhappy victim of these disturbances, do you tear out your heart and destroy yourself to establish this tyranny on the ruins of desolated France?...  Oh, my country!  Your misfortunes break my heart;  I can only offer you my life, and I thank heaven I have the freedom to dispose of it."  She said, later, "I have killed one man so that 100,000 will live."

Another version of the bathtub

Posted by PicasaOn Marat's bathroom wall hung two pistols and the words "La Mort."  Little did he know how applicable the phrase would become.

Treason is merely a question of dates

Posted by PicasaBy 1860, Charlotte Corday was considered a heroine.  All of France is behind her - on the wall.  (by Paul-Jacques Aime Baudry)


Posted by PicasaA less flattering likeness of Marat than David's Death of Marat.  Charlotte Corday resembles Marie Antoinette in this cartoon.  I wonder if that was intentional.

The final toilette

Posted by PicasaAccording to some accounts, Mme Corday cut her own hair before her execution.  She gave a lock of it to the artist who painted her last portrait. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Death of Marat

Posted by PicasaFor this idealized depiction, Jacques-Louis David hired the premier embalming expert of the time to prepare and pose the body, and presented Marat without the hideous skin condition that necessitated his hours soaking in a medicinal bath.
On the table next to Marat, there's an assignat and a note bearing the instruction that it be given to a widow with five children who "husband has died for the patrie."
David, among several others, arranged Marat's elaborate, theatrical funeral. The ceremony was complete with a torch lit procession and the intoning of a prayer (?) beginning with the words "O heart of Jesus, O heart of Marat..." that paralleled Jesus and Marat -  under Marat's heart which was suspended from the ceiling of the hall.  The Marquise de Sade was one of the speakers at his funeral.  It must be true that one can be judged by the company one keeps.

A close-up of the paper in Marat's hand in Death of Marat

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Posted by PicasaCharlotte Corday, after killing Marat, wrote to her father, from prison, "Forgive me, dear papa, for having disposed of my life without your permission.  I have avenged many innocent victims and I have prevented many future disasters...  Adieu, my dear papa, I beg you to forget me or rather to be glad of my ending - its cause was good.  I embrace my sister, whom I love with all my heart, as I do all my family..."

The National Razor

"I have done my duty. Now let others do theirs..."

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l'ange de l'assassinat

  Description of Charlotte's execution from Alphonse de Lamartine's History of the Girondists:  "As she mounted the fatal cart, a violent storm broke over Paris, but the lightning and rain did not disperse the crowd who blocked up the squares, the bridges, and the streets which she passed. Hordes of women, or rather furies, followed her with the fiercest imprecations; but, insensible to these insults, she gazed on the populace with eyes beaming with serenity and compassion.  The sky cleared up, and the rain which wetted her to the skin, displayed the exquisite symmetry of her form, like those of a woman leaving the bath. Her hands bound behind her back, obliged her to hold up her head, and this forced rigidity of the muscles gave more fixity to her attitude, and set off the outlines of her figure. The rays of the setting sun fell on her head; and her complexion, heightened by the red chemise, seemed of an unearthly brilliancy. . . . 
The cart stopped, and Charlotte, at the sight of the fatal instrument, turned pale, but, soon recovering herself, ascended the scaffold with as light and rapid a step as the long chemise and her pinioned arms permitted. When the executioner, to bare her neck, removed the handkerchief that covered her bosom, this insult to her modesty moved her more than her impending death; then, turning to the guillotine, she placed herself under the axe. The heavy blade fell, and her head rolled on the scaffold. One of the assistants, named Legros, took it in his hand and struck it on the cheek. It is said that a deep crimson suffusion overspread the face, as though dignity and modesty had for an instant lasted longer even than life."
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