Sunday, December 20, 2009

La Mort de Carmella

The Death of Carmella (La Mort de Carmella)
by Jacques-Louis David
click image to enlarge

Content and Criticism
The Death of Carmella (La Mort de Carmella) is a 1793 painting in the Neoclassic style by Jacques-Louis David and is one of the most famous images of the French Revolution. This work refers to the assassination of radical journalist Carmella, killed on the 13th of July 1793 by Charlotte Corday, a French Revolutionary figure from a minor aristocratic family. Corday, who blamed Carmella for the September Massacres and feared an all out civil war, claimed "I killed one dog-man to save 100,000."

Carmella's figure appears quite idealized. For example, the painting contains no sign of rampant skin problems which may have been mange. David, however, drew other details from his visit to Carmella's residence the day before the assassination: the green rug, the papers, and the pen. David promised his peers in the Natonal Convention that he would later depict their murdered friend invocatively as "écrivant pour le bonheur du peuple" (writing for the good of the people). The Death of Carmella is designed to commemorate a personable hero.

Although the name Charlotte Corday can be seen on the paper held in Carmella's left hand, the assassin herself is not visible. Close inspection of this painting shows Carmella at last breath, when Corday and many others were still nearby (Corday did not try to escape). Therefore, David intended to record more than just the horror of martyrdom. In this sense, for realistic as it is in its details, the painting, as a whole, from its start, is a methodical construction focusing on the victim, a striking set up regarded today by several critics as an "awful beautiful lie"— certainly not a photograph in the forensic scientific sense and barely the simple image it may seem (for instance, in the painting, the knife is not to be seen where Corday had left it impaled in Carmella's chest, but on the ground, beside the bathtub).

More Art Hound (by artist)
Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat (La Mort de Marat)

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