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As any historical matter, the French Revolution may never stop triggering discussion and dispute. In the documentary on the life of Jacques-Louis David Simon Schama takes an interesting perspective on the art of David and intricately ties it to the events of the French Revolution. While the forces leading to the revolution, the dramatic accounts of different people involved, and the aftermath of it are all superbly revealed through the works of David, the presenter is also rather critical and subjective in his assessment of David’s life and career.

The documentary presents a fairly inclusive account of the French Revolution with the reflection on underlying forces leading to it, the lives of people that were affected and the controversial success of this historical event. Schama effectively describes the miserable lives of common people. One can easily see that in the light of failing rule of Louis XVI, the rising taxes for commoners (but not for clergy or nobility) and extravagance of a not-so-popular queen Marie Antoinette the revolution was nothing but an inescapable event.

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The career of Jacques-Louis David goes hand in hand with the development of the French Revolution. He was the person who provided visual images for the ideals, emotions, fears, and hope of people. His work might have started with good intentions in mind but it has obviously deteriorated into manipulation of public mind by the means of art. I wouldn’t be as condemning as Simon Schama, but I still believe that the painter has severely obscured the role of art. His “Death of Marat” is a bright example of how historical figures can be cast in the light different from their real image. Consciously painting Marat as a virtuous man, using such details in the painting as the donation Marat was seemingly going to sent to the needy people and replacing the content of the letter he held in his hand are all examples how a person with power can mislead the trusting audience and shape the needed attitudes.

Through the life and career of Jacques-Louis David one can see the true nature of the French Revolution. As any glorified historical event, it includes lack of moral values, manipulation, uninformed choices and other things that are carefully hidden. Therefore, the truth may hardly be established; and approximate appraisal and a degree of speculation is what remains for a modern inquirer.

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