Jacques-Louis David, Death of Marat (1793), Self Portrait (1791)
The art historian TJ Clark places Jacques-Louis David's painting of his assassinated revolutionary hero, Marat, at the the fountainhead of modern art - it is a marvelous choice. A heroic image of a new brand of secular martyr, intended for a new kind of mass audience. Marat's bulging forearm muscles (at odds with the bookish reality) would become staples of agritprop - a signal that he was "of the people." Laying the ground work for the expressions of ideology and the mass politics of centuries ahead. All Coming together in one amazing painting, we can see those premodern aristocratic roots being grafted for the first time to the radicalism revolutionary politics. But there is another paintings of David's that survives from that same Revolutionary period, David's own self portrait.
This is not Agitprop. There are no bulging forearms, or images intended to galvanize the crowd. This is a private man looking haunted and unsure. It is here, with this more modest painting, that we can feel see an self-image very different from the aristocracy. David has no sword, is backed by no hunting trophies or servants. He is well dressed, but not bombastically so. David was famous, a wealthy man, but he chose to picture himself, not costumed for court, but dressed for life in city. The self portrait is shows a less sensational and more personal attachment between politics and person. David's Napolian is a alien creature out of an alien past, but David's David could be anyone alive today. And while Gustave Courbet famously served as a cultural representative during the proto-Communist revolution in Paris a century after David, we remember him for self-portraits and painting of his friends and family. But by the turn of the 20th century the Marxist critique was in full bloom, and Artists had begun to imagine themselves as revolutionary workers, and soon enough as an avant-guard, but their lives, their self portraits form a their images of themselves and those around them for a parallel current.
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of a Woman with a Mustache (1953); Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman (1933)