Guillotined Styles

Charlotte Corday was just beginning to blossom as a woman when the French Revolution broke out.  She saw nothing liberating about the aftermath of the Revolution and its atrocities.  Believing Jean-Paul Marat to be a blood thirsty monster who sent innocent people to their graves, she felt that by murdering him she could save thousands of lives.

Because of a skin condition he’d developed while hiding in sewers, Marat was forced to bathe a lot.  So he transformed his tub into a kind of desk where he’d soak for hours while writing down his political theories. One day while he was bathing, 24 year old Charlotte Corday sneaked into his bathroom and stabbed him to death.

A young German living in Paris, Adam Lux, was so impressed by the actions of Charlotte that he fell in love with her.  He followed her trial and was present when she was beheaded. Adam saw Charlotte as a martyr and wrote a pamphlet in her defense which led to his arrest for treason. Tried, he was told he could save his life if he would retract what he’d written but he just smiled and thanked the judges because he was honored to be sacrificed on the same guillotine where Charlotte had met her death.

Jacques-Louis David was good friends with that terror loving Robespierre and actively supported the French Revolution. So to show what a groupie he was, David painted Marat dead in his tub. This earned him the power to dictate what was and wasn’t permissible art in revolutionary France.

As a youth studying in Rome, David had copied classical antiquity and read Wicklemann’s writings on ancient sculpture. And when, during the French Revolution, it came time for him to distance himself from from the frivolous Rococo popular under the Ancien Régime, David recycled his Roman studies to develop his austere and severe Neo-Classical style. Then his buddy Robespierre was guillotined, and Napoleon became Emperor so a new style was needed and, violà, the Empire style. But, when Napoleon fell from power, too, and was substituted with a Bourbon revival, David had to leave France as he’d run out of styles.

Style is not just limited to painting.


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