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Jean-Paul Marat was sitting in the bathtub when he was murdered 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 French Revolution produced. He spent much of his time in his tub to find relief from a chronic skin rash. He wore a compress on his head to relieve headaches from which he also suffered. While he was bathing on this fateful day, he was reading a letter from Charlotte Corday, the great grand-daughter of the playwright Pierre Corneille. The young noblewoman had tried in vain to gain admittance to Marat. Now she had sent him a letter slyly suggesting a tete-a-tete. He let her in and she stabbed him. Marat died instantly.
Many contemporaries were pleased with 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 gallows.
David was a fervent revolutionary and a personal friend of Marat. He obliged by by rendering Marat's corpse on canvas just as he had had it put on public display; with his bare chest and wounds visible. The image became a symbol of the French Revolution. It was placed on a church altar, smothered under billowing clouds of incense. It replaced crucifixes and Royal portraits. But soon after, this personality cult ended, the painting put in hiding and Marat's heart, once placed beneath the painting, was burned and the ashes scattered in the Montmartre sewer.