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Jacques Louis Copia

(1764 Landau – 1799 Paris)

À Marat. L’Ami du Peuple. Engraving printed in brown ink. 38.2 x 31.6 cm. Portalis-Béraldi 117.

This imposing, highly expressive portrait is an adaptation of Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Marat, executed in 1793, shortly after the assassination of the revolutionary agi­tator and Jacobin, Jean Paul Marat. The title is a reference to the newspaper Ami du Peuple, edited by Marat, which was pub­lished from 1789 onwards and served as a highly regarded and influential mouthpiece of the revolutionary movement in France. The large-format, very rare engraving is a memorable example of art in the service of revolutionary propaganda. Copia portrays Marat as a martyr of the revolution; the focus he places on his face tilted to one side with his eyes closed recalls depictions of the Passion of Christ. “Ne pouvant me corrompre, ils m’ont asassiné” reads the caption formulated as an accusation. The portrait is remarkable for its highly developed, finely differentiated technique and atmospheric chiaroscuro effect, which give the scene an almost mystical character.

The career of the engraver, Jacques Louis Copia, is characte­ristic of the social upheavals of the late 18th century and not free of conformism. Copia initially distinguished himself as a portrait engraver, taking portraits of Queen Marie Antoinette and other members of the French high nobility and also pro­ducing gallant depictions in keeping with contemporary taste. He became best known, however, for his masterfully executed reproductive engravings after works by Pierre Paul Prud’hon, with whom he enjoyed a long-lasting symbiotic collaboration that began shortly after 1789. Several patriotic compositions, such as La Constitution française and La Liberté, bear witness to Copia’s subsequent endeavours on behalf of the revolutionary cause. A superb, finely nuanced impression with wide margins. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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