The Angel-Assassin of the French Revolution
Depictions of Corday and her act vary greatly: while many with immediate experience of Corday painted her with dark or at least brunette hair, a handful of early portraits presented Corday as blonde or with powdered hair. This fair image of Corday – sometimes evoking an angelic sense, sometimes connoting the decadence of the French aristocracy – has marked the historical memory of the French Revolution. Writers, even up to the present day, seem mesmerized by the image of the assassin with voluptuous blonde locks.
Why has the gaze of historical memory needed to remake Corday’s body in a stereotypical way - and those of so many other powerful
A Brunette Charlotte Corday (1793)
A Blonde Charlotte Corday Awaiting Execution (1889)
"Joanna Pitman, in On Blondes, tracing the evolution of blondness as a cultural code, stresses its mixed message. 'Every age has restyled blonde hair in its own image, invested it with its own preoccupations.' Never a mere color, it was and is always a blazing symbol, but a profoundly ambivalent one. Because so few are truly blonde, light hair often indicates artificiality, hence deception. Blondeness had early erotic connotations in both Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures (the golden-haired seductress Aphrodite, the disobedient, lascivious Eve, the sexually sinful Mary Magdalene) but it was also a fairy tale symbol of youthful charm, innocence and sweetness (Goldilocks and Cinderella) and of immaculate saintliness and virtue (the Virgin Mary, the female martyrs, and the ubiquitous angels). So blondness could signify the root of all evil, or the brightness and luminosity of the divine. It could code vanity and folly, or incorruptible purity...""What is happening here? Some have made the case that colors reside in the beholder’s eye rather than in the perceived object. Umberto Eco, in his essay, ‘How Culture Conditions the Colors We See,’ argues that we are very bad at discriminating between colors, that our 'chromatic competence' is severely limited by our words for different hues, and that the names we give to colors have no chromatic content. Instead, our chromatic perception is shaped by language, and by the requirements of the moment and the surrounding culture."
David's Death of Marat (1793)-- with an absent Corday