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Focus on : Paris during the Revolution

The French Revolution

The most important collection in the world relating to the French Revolution is kept by the Musée Carnavalet. 

2 museums
35 works

By the 1780s, the concept of absolute monarchy, long criticised by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, had run out of steam. Many French people, especially in the working-class areas of Paris, were jobless victims of famine and scarcity. No longer willing to tolerate the lack of equality, they revolted. The regime was unable to meet the people’s expectations for reform and was, in addition, destabilised by the financial crisis and the national debt. The king had no choice but to convene the Estates General, which opened on 5 May 1789. This was their first meeting since 1614 and the representatives of the three Estates of the realm (the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners, or Third Estate) wrote up the grievances of their electors in what became known as cahiers de doléances (lists of grievances). The Revolution had not yet begun. The French loved their king and trusted him to put an end to the abuses of the most privileged members of society. But in Versailles, the deputies were unable to reach an agreement. After a long month of quarrels, on 17 June 1789, the Third Estate, joined by a few members of the clergy and aristocracy, decided to set themselves up as the newly christened National Assembly (Assemblée nationale). Since they claimed to represent the sovereignty of the people, this move by the deputies of 1789 was the first truly revolutionary act. Absolute monarchy was now a thing of the past.

The estates general, 1789

A society of orders

Just before the Revolution, France had a population of some 28 millions, divided up into three "orders" or "estates" according to levels of prestige. Praying for the king, and fighting for him, were considered more honourable activities than merely working. This is why the clergy made up the First Estate,  the nobility, whose duties were military, constituted the Second. But 98% of France's inhabitants – the bourgeoisie, the tradesmen and manual workers of the cities, and peasants – belonged to the Third Estate.

This anonymous image from 1789 shows an old peasant, representing the Third Estate, being ground down by a member of the clergy wearing a cross, and a nobleman wearing a sword. The cartoon symbolizes the tax burden which, under the Ancien Régime (the Old Regime), was almost entirely borne by the people. The image denounces a double inequality: the poorest were also the most heavily taxed. In the late 18th century the gap between rich and poor was widening and this caused many protests. As the cartoon's caption indicates, the common people were hoping that change was not far off.

This kind of portrayal of the three estates circulated widely at the time, in many different forms.

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A faut esperer q'eu se jeu la Finira bentot [sic]
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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Others visuals (3)
A faut esperer q'eu se jeu la Finira bentot [sic]
Anonyme
Dating
En 1789
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

A faut esperer q'eu se jeu la Finira bentot [sic]

Anonyme
En 1789
Estampe, Arts graphiques, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Saladier aux trois ordres inscrit inscrit "LA LOI / ET / LE ROY"
Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet. Photo Carole Rabourdin
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Saladier aux trois ordres inscrit inscrit "LA LOI / ET / LE ROY"
Anonyme
Dating
Fin 1789
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Saladier aux trois ordres inscrit inscrit "LA LOI / ET / LE ROY"

Anonyme
Fin 1789
Céramique, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Pichet aux trois ordres
© Françoise Cochennec / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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Pichet aux trois ordres
Anonyme
Dating
En 1790
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Pichet aux trois ordres

Anonyme
En 1790
Céramique, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

The tennis court oath

On June 20th 1789, at Versailles, the deputies elected by the Third Estate, accompanied by a few representatives of the nobility and the clergy, assembled at the Jeu de Paume indoor tennis court: the king had forbidden them the use of the chamber where they usually met. Together the deputies swore an oath not to separate until they had drawn up a Constitution for the kingdom. Their aim was a transition from an absolute monarchy, in which all power was held by the king, to a constitutional one, in which royal power would be limited by the Constitution.

To celebrate the Tennis Court Oath, the National Assembly – the name adopted by the "Etats Généraux" after June 1789 – commissioned a painting from Jacques-Louis David. What we see here is a preliminary sketch.

In the centre, future Paris mayor Jean-Sylvain Bailly is reading out the oath. The deputies are grouped together on the other side of an imaginary line, as if on a theatre stage: so as we look at the picture we have the impression of witnessing the event. This theatrical presentation is accentuated by the raised arms of the deputies as they swear the oath. Among them we recognise Robespierre, Mirabeau, Abbé Grégoire and Barnave. Seated to the right, Joseph Martin-Dauch, the only deputy who refused to take the oath, has his arms folded as a sign of protest. In the centre-foreground two representatives of the Catholic Church and a Protestant pastor illustrate the rapprochement between Christians of different confessions and the support given by part of the clergy to the plan for a constitutional monarchy.

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Serment du Jeu de paume, le 20 juin 1789
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Others visuals (9)
Serment du Jeu de paume, le 20 juin 1789
David, Jacques-Louis
Dating
Après 1791
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Serment du Jeu de paume, le 20 juin 1789

David, Jacques-Louis
Après 1791
Peinture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

In 1789, before the opening of the "Etats Généraux", the people of Paris were severely affected by a bad winter, a rise in the price of bread and increased unemployment.

In July, a concentration of foreign regiments around Versailles gave rise to rumours of an ‘aristocratic plot’ against the National Assembly. The demonstration organised in support of disgraced liberals Necker and the Duke of Orléans, which had begun on 12 July, turned into a vast insurrection. All around Paris, the toll gates had been burning for two days. On the 14, in search of weapons to protect the population, the rioters invaded the Invalides and then moved on to the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) where the Provost of the Merchants of Paris, Jacques de Flesselles, who was suspected of hiding weapons, was shot. Still lacking munitions, the insurgents hurried to the Bastille, which held the largest stock of gunpowder in Paris. There, the governor de Launay, and his soldiers attempted resistance. When he surrendered he too was assassinated. The storming of the Bastille resulted in the deaths of about a hundred people, providing the Revolution with its first martyrs.

During the attack, a municipal government was set up and Jean-Sylvain Bailly became the first mayor of Paris. Louis XVI abandoned attempts to quell the revolt and came to Paris on 17 July, where he agreed to receive the patriotic cockade and recognised the new Commune as well as the National Guard, the volunteer militia created on 14 July.

The storming of the Bastille, 1789

The Demolition of the Bastille

For Parisians the fortress of the Bastille, which had been turned into a prison, had become the symbol of absolute royal power: you could be imprisoned without trial by an order from the king. The prison was virtually empty on 14 July 1789, when the rebels seized it in search of weapons and ammunition.

That evening building contractor Pierre-François Palloy sent his workmen to demolish this symbol of absolutism. He organised tours of the worksite and began making souvenirs out of fragments of the fortress. Among them were many models like the one shown here, carved out of  blocks of stone from the former prison. Palloy sent these scale models out into France's 83 newly created départements. He also sent them to King Louis XVI and his ministers, and even to such foreign personages as George Washington, first president of the United States.

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La Bastille (oeuvre exécutée dans un bloc de pierre provenant de la Bastille)
Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet. Photo Stéphane Piera
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© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Marie-Laure Berthier / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Others visuals (58)
La Bastille (oeuvre exécutée dans un bloc de pierre provenant de la Bastille)
Anonyme
Dating
Entre 1789 et 1794
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

La Bastille (oeuvre exécutée dans un bloc de pierre provenant de la Bastille)

Anonyme, Palloy, Pierre-François, Palloy, Pierre-François
Entre 1789 et 1794
Sculpture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Serment des Enfans.
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Serment des Enfans.
Lesueur, Jean-Baptiste
Dating
Entre 1790 et 1793
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Serment des Enfans.

Lesueur, Jean-Baptiste
Entre 1790 et 1793
Dessin, Arts graphiques
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Prise de la Bastille par les gardes françaises et les bourgeois de Paris le 14 juillet 1789
© Florent Gomez / Musée Carnavalet / Paris Musées
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© Florent Gomez / Musée Carnavalet / Paris Musées
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Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet. Photo Julien Vidal
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Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet. Photo Julien Vidal
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Others visuals (4)
Prise de la Bastille par les gardes françaises et les bourgeois de Paris le 14 juillet 1789
Anonyme
Dating
Vers 1789
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Prise de la Bastille par les gardes françaises et les bourgeois de Paris le 14 juillet 1789

Anonyme
Vers 1789
Vêtements et accessoires de vêtement, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 August 1789. The presentation of its 17 articles resembles the Tables of the Law on which God passed the Ten Commandments to Moses. The two columns are separated by revolutionary symbols: the fasces, representing unity and strength; the pike, the weapon of choice of the representatives of the people; and the Phrygian cap, standing for the newfound liberty of the freed slave. There is also a laurel wreath symbolising glory and a serpent biting its tail, signifying eternity. The declaration is flanked by two allegorical figures: to the left, France breaking the chains of royal absolutism, and to the right, Fame holding the sceptre of Reason. At the very top, the radiant triangle of Equality contains the open eye of Providence in an evocation of God surveying humanity.

Inspired by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, the text specifies the "natural, inalienable rights of man". This document was intended as the basis of a new world founded on individual liberty and universal equality before the law. It also stressed the fundamental notions of freedom of speech, assembly and religion. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was to have a profound influence throughout the world.

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Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen.
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen.
Le Barbier, Jean-Jacques-François (dit l'Aîné)
Dating
Vers 1789
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen.

Le Barbier, Jean-Jacques-François (dit l'Aîné)
Vers 1789
Peinture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

In the summer of 1789, to ensure the Revolution did not leave disorder and insecurity in its wake, men took up arms in the towns and villages, forming National Guards and organising gatherings that could attract hundreds of thousands of people. The induction of these newly ‘federated’ companies concluded with a huge national ceremony on

14 July 1790: the Fête de la Fédération. The ceremony commemorated the first anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille and was celebrated on the Champ-de-Mars under the leadership of La Fayette. Fifty thousand men from 83 départements (created on 15 January 1790) paraded before the royal family and more than 400,000 Parisians. The Fête de la Fédération also served to display the adhesion of the French people and their king to the constitutional project. The huge crowd swore an oath “to the Nation, to the Law, and to the King” in a state of enthusiasm impervious to the terrible weather. However, behind this facade of unanimity, there were serious tensions. The Revolution was far from over and, in some départements, civil war was breaking out.

The "fête de la Fédération", 1790

The "fête de la Fédération"

On July 14th 1790 a great national celebration was held on the Champ de Mars for the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. For this "Fête de la Fédération" 50,000 men and women from France's 83 départements paraded past the royal family and more than 400,000 Parisians. An enormous crowd then pledged allegiance to "the Nation, the Law and the King", an event depicted is this 1796 painting by Charles Thévenin. Massed together in a stand on the right, the deputies of the Constituent Assembly were to draw up the kingdom's first Constitution. On the steps we see Louis XVI swearing loyalty to the future Constitution, alongside Bailly, the mayor of Paris. Further back Queen Marie-Antoinette is presenting the five year old Dauphin, heir to the throne, to the crowd. In the left-hand part of the picture we see Mass being celebrated on the Altar of the Fatherland, symbol of the Nation.

While the people of France acclaimed the new ideas embodied in the Revolution, they remained very attached to their king. For several days Paris saw a succession of dances, celebrations and banquets, and the Revolution was thought to be over. But this apparent unanimity concealed major tensions, and riots and uprisings continued in a number of départements. 

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Vue de la fête donnée sur le plan de la Bastille
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Vue de la fête donnée sur le plan de la Bastille
Anonyme
Dating
Entre 1785 et 1795
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Vue de la fête donnée sur le plan de la Bastille

Anonyme
Entre 1785 et 1795
Estampe, Arts graphiques, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Refusing to accept the challenge to his power, Louis XVI attempted to escape during the night of 20 June 1791. He was caught at Varennes and taken back to the Tuileries where he received an icy reception. The idea of a Republic was beginning to take shape. The majority of the deputies had restrained the radicals, declared the king inviolable, and chosen the compromise of a constitutional monarchy. Indeed, on 14 September, the king swore an oath to the constitution. But as soon as the Constituent Assembly gave way to the Legislative Assembly, preparing for war became the top priority. The French Revolution was seen as a threat by the royal courts of Europe and was also targeted by émigrés who constituted the elite of the army of the Ancien Régime; the risk of invasion was high. Anticipating the danger, the French declared war on Austria on 20 April 1792. At the same time, the king was making less and less effort to hide his duplicity, and the most active of the deputies made preparations for insurrection. During the night of 9 August, a rebel Commune overthrew the municipality. On the 10, the fédérés and workers from poor districts attacked the Tuileries Palace.

The king’s power was suspended, but the Republic was not proclaimed until 22 September. The French were spurred to action: two days before, at Valmy, an army of volunteers had managed to drive back the Prussians. A new assembly, the National Convention, was elected by universal male suffrage.

From constitutional monarchy to the proclamation of the republic, 1791-1792

The King Flees

After the image had been cut into the wood, it was coated with ink and printed as a poster on a sheet of paper. This technique is called wood engraving or woodblock printing.

Here Jean-Baptiste Letourmi depicts the arrest of the king and his family at Varennes. During the night of June 20th 1791, Louis XVI slipped out of Paris with the queen, his sister Madame Élisabeth, the dauphin, his daughter Madame Royale and the children's governess Madame de Tourzel. All of them were dressed as bourgeois. The king had sworn to uphold the Constitution, which had just been passed by the National Assembly, but in secret he was working to regain absolute power. The royal family fled towards Eastern France with a view to rallying loyalist troops or crossing the border and enlisting the support of foreign armies and émigrés from the French nobility. Along the way Louis was recognised by postmaster Jean-Baptiste Drouet, who set off after the coach and caught up with it in the small town of Varennes.

The royal family was brought back to Paris amid booing and catcalling. This episode was one of the Revolution's turning points: the king's flight was seen as treason and cost him the support of part of the population. The idea began to spread that the country no longer needed a king and could become a republic.    

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Arrestation du roi et de sa famille à Varenne le 22 juin 1791
© Philippe Ladet / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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Arrestation du roi et de sa famille à Varenne le 22 juin 1791
Letourmi, Jean-Baptiste
Dating
Vers 1791
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Arrestation du roi et de sa famille à Varenne le 22 juin 1791

Letourmi, Jean-Baptiste
Vers 1791
Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Arrestation du roi et de sa famille a Varenne le 22 juin 1791

Letourmi, Jean-Baptiste
Vers 1790
Arts graphiques, Estampe
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Arrestation du roi et de sa famille a Varenne le 22 juin 1791
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Arrestation du roi et de sa famille a Varenne le 22 juin 1791
Letourmi, Jean-Baptiste
Dating
Vers 1790
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

The "sans-culottes"

Painted around 1792, this portrait by Louis-Léopold Boilly is the first known depiction of a "sans-culotte", the nickname given to the revolutionaries, who wore wide trousers instead of the short "culotte" – the knee-breeches – of the nobility and the bourgeoisie. They also wore the Phrygian cap with a tricolour cockade, a reference to the freed slaves of ancient Rome. The striped shirt reflects a "revolutionary fashion" imported from America, but the pipe and the clogs reveal a man of the people.

As members of the urban underclass, the sans-culottes demanded an egalitarian republic based on the sovereignty of the people. They met and discussed in neighbourhood assemblies and radical political clubs. In favour of direct action, they took part in the storming of the Tuileries Palace on August 10th 1792, which led to the fall of the monarchy.

Here the "sans-culotte" is carrying a tricolour. A product of the revolution, this flag combined the red and blue of the city of Paris with the royal white. The three colours were initially brought together as a cockade, but in 1794 the governing National Convention enforced vertical stripes and the sequence of the colours. On the flag in the painting are the words "Liberty or death", which was at that time equally used as "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" that would become the motto of the French Republic.

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Portrait du chanteur Simon Chenard (1758-1832), en costume de sans-culotte, portant un drapeau à la fête de la liberté de la Savoie, le 14 octobre 1792
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Portrait du chanteur Simon Chenard (1758-1832), en costume de sans-culotte, portant un drapeau à la fête de la liberté de la Savoie, le 14 octobre 1792
Boilly, Louis Léopold
Dating
Vers 1792
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Sans-culottes en armes.

Lesueur, Jean-Baptiste
Entre 1793 et 1794
Dessin, Arts graphiques
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Sans-culottes en armes.
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Other visual (1)
Sans-culottes en armes.
Lesueur, Jean-Baptiste
Dating
Entre 1793 et 1794
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

After the storming of the Tuileries Palace on 10 August, the king was stripped of his powers on 21 September and imprisoned, along with his family, at the Temple Tower. From then on, he was nicknamed ‘Louis Capet’ by the revolutionaries, not just in reference to his ancestor, Hugues Capet, but above all as a reminder of his new status as an ordinary citizen.

After the discovery of the king’s "armoire de fer", a secret cupboard full of documents proving his collusion with foreign sovereigns and that he had managed to corrupt many political figures, the Convention decided to put the king on trial.

After a long debate, the king was found guilty almost unanimously, though only a slight majority condemned him to death. He was guillotined on 21 January 1793 in the Place de la Révolution (today’s Place de la Concorde). Marie-Antoinette met the same fate on 16 October closely followed by Madame Élisabeth, the king’s sister. The Dauphin, who would have become Louis XVII, died at the Temple prison on 8 June 1795. Madame Royale, his sister, was exchanged for other prisoners in 1795. The execution of the king was considered a sacrilege by many French people and Europeans, and it brought matters to a head. Many French people, particularly in the West, refused to be enlisted in the Republican armies and took up arms against the Revolution. At the same time, a sizeable European coalition was formed, which in turn further radicalised the revolutionaries in France.

The fall of the monarchy and the fate of the royal family, 1792-1793

The prison of the temple

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Habit du dauphin Louis XVII
© Galliera / Roger-Viollet
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Habit du dauphin Louis XVII
Anonyme
Dating
Entre 1790 et 1792
Museum
Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris

Habit du dauphin Louis XVII

Anonyme
Entre 1790 et 1792
Vêtements et accessoires de vêtement
Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris
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Portrait de Marie-Antoinette au Temple
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Portrait de Marie-Antoinette au Temple
Anonyme
Dating
Vers 1815
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Portrait de Marie-Antoinette au Temple

Anonyme, Kucharski, Alexandre
Vers 1815
Peinture, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Révolution française : La famille royale dans le jardin du Temple, en compagnie de Cléry. 4ème arrondissemnent
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Révolution française : La famille royale dans le jardin du Temple, en compagnie de Cléry. 4ème arrondissemnent
Anonyme
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Révolution française : La famille royale dans le jardin du Temple, en compagnie de Cléry. 4ème arrondissemnent

Anonyme
Estampe, Arts graphiques, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

The reform of the calendar was particularly revealing of revolutionary attitudes towards time and history. The National Convention’s desire to overhaul the measurement of time is just one example of its attempts to adapt French people’s habits to suit the new values of the Republic.

On 20 September 1793, the deputy Gilbert Romme delivered a report to the Convention concerning what was to become the Republican calendar, intended to replace its Gregorian predecessor. After a number of adjustments, an act passed on 4 Frimaire of the year II (24 November 1793) finalized its structure. The Republican calendar began on 1 Vendémiaire of the year i (22 September 1792), the day of the proclamation of the Republic. The calendar year was divided into twelve months of thirty days each, with six days added at the end of the year. Each month was divided into three sets of ten days. The names of the months and the days were thought up by the poet Fabre d’Églantine to describe the seasons and their corresponding agricultural activity. The revolutionary calendar survived until 1 January 1806. Even as the Empire took hold, many Republican symbols continued to be used in an attempt to unite the French people.

A further measure concerned the division of each day into decimal segments: each of the ten ‘hours’ was divided into ten ‘minutes’, which were divided into ten ‘seconds’. However this urge to reduce all measurements to the same system met with such practical difficulties for watchmakers that the experiment was abandoned in 1795.

The measurement of time : the republicain calendar and decimal time

Decimal time

Made around 1795, this is a rare kind of clock: it functions according to the decimal time established by the French Revolution. Under the Ancien Régime units of measurement differed widely from one part of France to another, which made everyday life complicated and hampered business. In 1790 the National Assembly asked experts from the Academy of Science to devise a single, simple system of weights and measures for the whole country. The results were the metre, kilogram and litre, all decimal-based. Henceforth everything, including time, was to be divisible by ten: weeks had ten days, days had ten hours, hours had a hundred minutes and minutes had a hundred seconds.

Most decimal clocks are of the skeleton type seen here, with mechanisms visible at the centre of the largest dial. This dial indicated decimal divisions – a day of ten hours – and the names of the months of the new republican calendar; the latter began on 1 Vendémiaire (September 22nd 1792), the day when the Republic was proclaimed. The decimal system was never really applied to timekeeping, but the republican calendar remained in force until 1 January 1806.

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Pendule squelette à heure décimale
© Philippe Ladet / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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Pendule squelette à heure décimale
Bruel
Dating
Vers 1795
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Pendule squelette à heure décimale

Bruel
Vers 1795
Mobilier, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

The history of the National Convention was marked by a struggle between two political groups: the Girondins, who opposed any extension of participation by the people and supported economic liberalism; and the Montagnards, who were closer to the sans-culottes and in favour of the extension of emergency measures. In the spring

of 1793, the Convention created a Committee of Public Safety, Surveillance Committees in the cities and towns, and a Committee of General Security in Paris. Ordinary law was ousted by emergency measures, which eroded democracy.

After the fall of the Girondins on 2 June 1793, the Montagnards voted a new, more social and democratic constitution known as the Constitution of Year I. Although it was never applied, it had an important effect on the following century.

Overwhelmed by civil war and the invasion of France, the Convention had both to defend the Republic and to create a new egalitarian society. The resulting laws were at times contradictory.

On the one hand, the dictatorship would tolerate no opposition, women were excluded from political life, and violence was sanctioned, On the other hand the Convention also defined a national social action policy, passed the first law making school compulsory and they were the first in history to abolish slavery. But there was a great increase in political repression with the passing, on 10 June 1794, of the law of 22 Prairial. The arrest of Robespierre and his allies on 27 July 1794 (9 Thermidor Year II) indicated an urge to temper the Revolution.

The convention 1792-1794

Maximilien de Robespierre

Originally a lawyer from Arras, Maximilien Robespierre was one of the Third Estate deputies elected in 1789. Known as "the Incorruptible", he earned fame at the beginning of the Revolution with his forceful personality and powerful oratory. Re-elected under the National Convention – the assembly that governed France from 1792 to 1795 – he sided with the far Left "Montagnards", who were close to the sans-culottes and receptive to popular demands.

Robespierre is depicted here not as a political man of action, but as a distinguished figure, elegantly dressed and with his hair scrupulously powdered.

As a member of the Committee for Public Safety, he played a significant part in the revolutionary government. Founded in the spring of 1793, this political organisation was intended to save a Republic then under threat not only from war outside France's borders, but also from uprisings within the country and conflicts among Republicans. Accused of tyranny, he was arrested on 9 Thermidor Year II (July 27th 1794) and guillotined the next day with a number of his followers.

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Portrait de Maximilien De Robespierre (1758-1798), homme politique
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Portrait de Maximilien De Robespierre (1758-1798), homme politique
David d'Angers, Pierre-Jean
Dating
En 1835
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Portrait de Maximilien De Robespierre (1758-1798), homme politique

David d'Angers, Pierre-Jean, Richard, Louis
En 1835
Sculpture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

The guillotine

This scale model is a faithful copy of a guillotine from the revolutionary era. It comprises two uprights slotted to hold a sliding blade. The condemned person was strapped to a horizontal board with his or her head held in place in the circular lunette. The severed head fell into a basket or leather bag and after the execution the body was placed in a wicker or wooden basket.   

The guillotine owes its name to Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a doctor elected as a Third Estate deputy in 1789. He was not, however, its inventor: the idea for the machine came from Doctor Antoine Louis, working from a principle in use in France and other countries since the Middle Ages. It was Guillotin, though, who suggested that all those condemned to death, whatever their social status and crimes, should be guillotined as a way of reducing their suffering.

The guillotine was used for the first time on April 25th 1792, and its use became more frequent after the execution of Louis XVI on January 21st 1793. In France the last guillotining took place in 1977, prior to abolition of the death penalty in 1981.

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Modèle réduit de guillotine avec le panier servant à la réception du corps
© Marie-Laure Berthier / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Eric Emo / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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Others visuals (20)
Modèle réduit de guillotine avec le panier servant à la réception du corps
Berger
Dating
En 1876
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Modèle réduit de guillotine avec le panier servant à la réception du corps

Berger
En 1876
Maquette
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Une exécution capitale, place de la Révolution

Demachy, Pierre-Antoine
Vers 1793
Peinture, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Une exécution capitale, place de la Révolution
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Une exécution capitale, place de la Révolution
Demachy, Pierre-Antoine
Dating
Vers 1793
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

The Thermidorian regime in the National Convention began with the fall of Robespierre (27 July 1794). Many French people were now looking for a compromise. The Thermidorians wanted to bring the Revolution to an end by setting up a conservative Republic. The regime was established by the Constitution of Year III (22 August 1795).

It was called ‘The Directory’ (Directoire) because it had five Directors who exercised collective executive power. Although the deputies were no longer entrusted with total power, collegial administration was supposed to avoid authoritarian abuse. The universal suffrage elections were abolished ans the regime established a bicameral system on the English model, by which only qualified property holders elected the two legislative chambers (the Council of Five Hundred and the Council of Ancients). Though it has oft been ignored, the Directory was an important political test bed, particularly in Europe, where several ‘Sister Republics’ came into being. But bringing civil war to an end was no easy matter. The period was punctuated by a series of plots and coups d’état, from both the left (Neo-Jacobin) and the right (Royalist). Finally, Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup succeeded on 18 Brumaire, Year VIII (9 November 1799).

The Directory was then replaced by the Consulat, an authoritarian regime run by three consuls, of whom only the first consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, appointed for life in 1802, held any real power. Two years later, the proclamation of the First Empire marked the end of the First French Republic (1792-1804).

The directory 1795 - 1799

"Incroyables" and "Merveilleuses" (Dandies and fine ladies)

 

 
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Les Merveilleuses
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Les Merveilleuses
Darcis, Louis
Dating
En 1796 et 1797
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Les Merveilleuses

Cette caricature de l’époque du Directoire[1] représente des jeunes bourgeois ou aristocrates qui affichent leur opposition à la Révolution en adoptant des tenues extravagantes. Le Directoire est ainsi une période faste pour la mode.

Les hommes, surnommés « Incroyables » ou plutôt « Inc’oyables » car ils refusent de prononcer la lettre « R » de la Révolution, portent des cravates volumineuses, des redingotes courtes ainsi que des bicornes et des souliers pointus qui rappellent ceux du Moyen Âge. Ils se distinguent aussi par leurs cheveux tressés ou abattus le long des tempes que l’on nomme « oreilles de chien ». La canne-gourdin fait également partie de leur panoplie; c’était une arme redoutable, utilisée dans les combats de rue entre royalistes et républicains.

Les femmes, appelées « Merveilleuses », portent des robes légères à la mode antique. Ces robes étant trop près du corps pour qu’on puisse y faire des poches, elles portent, à bout de bras ou attachés à la ceinture, de petits sacs appelés « réticules ». Elles exhibent d’autres précieux accessoires : perruques, éventails,bésicles[2] et arborent des chapeaux à longue visière.

Ces modes se font connaitre plus largement grâce à la caricature, comme cette planche qui eut un énorme succès et fut plusieurs fois reproduites.

 

[1] Directoire : Régime républicain et conservateur fondé par la Constitution de l’an III (22 août 1795), il tire son nom des cinq directeurs qui exercent ensemble le pouvoir exécutif.

[2] Bésicles : Anciennes lunettes sans branches qui se fixent sur le nez.

Darcis, Louis, Vernet, Carle
En 1796 et 1797
Estampe, Arts graphiques
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Les Croyables / Actifs du Palais ci-dev.t Royal.
Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Les Croyables / Actifs du Palais ci-dev.t Royal.
Tresca, Salvatore
Dating
En 1797
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Les Croyables / Actifs du Palais ci-dev.t Royal.

Tresca, Salvatore
En 1797
Estampe, Arts graphiques
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
Zoom
Quatre couples en promenade.
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Quatre couples en promenade.
Lesueur, Jean-Baptiste
Dating
Entre 1795 et 1805
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Quatre couples en promenade.

Lesueur, Jean-Baptiste
Entre 1795 et 1805
Dessin, Arts graphiques
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

The Revolution was marked by a long period of war. Innumerable campaigns, involving unprecedented mobilisation, saved the French Republic from defeat. Certain victories even significantly extended its territories. After pushing back the Prussians at Valmy on 20 September 1792, the French went on the offensive, as much to ‘liberate’ neighbouring populations and increase the spread of ‘civilisation’ as to defend the Republic and garner public support. Victories at Jemmapes (6 November 1792) and Fleurus (26 June 1794) led to the annexation of what is now Belgium. Other territorial gains included Savoy, Nice, and the left bank of the Rhine, as well as several ‘Sister Republics’, including the Batavian Republic and the Italian republics.

From the beginning, the French Revolution was also marked by civil war. With the aim of restoring the monarchy, the authority of the church and French ‘traditions’, insurrectionary movements sprang up in various regions of France, but especially in the West, where the Vendée region became synonymous with the Counter-Revolution.

Under the Directory, war and an increasing need for authority provided an opportunity for many soldiers to rise rapidly through the ranks and assert themselves as political figures. Brilliant soldiers, like Kléber, Jourdan, Hoche and Marceau, rose rapidly up the military hierarchy. The most brilliant ascension, however, was that of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Revolution and war, 1792-1799

Recruiting for the army

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Au garde national. Enseigne de recrutement militaire. Paris
© Marie-Laure Berthier / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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Au garde national. Enseigne de recrutement militaire. Paris
Anonyme
Dating
1789 et 1790
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Au garde national. Enseigne de recrutement militaire. Paris

Cette enseigne représente un soldat de la Garde nationale, milice[1] de volontaires créée le 14 juillet 1789 et commandée par le marquis de La Fayette. Le soldat porte l’uniforme du régiment des Gardes françaises qui a participé à la prise de la Bastille. Sur son habit, on reconnaît d’ailleurs la médaille d’or communale des Gardes françaises qui est la décoration des soldats vainqueurs de la Bastille.

Cette enseigne a été utilisée sous la Révolution pour enrôler des volontaires dans les armées. Le nombre de mobilisés pour les nombreuses campagnes militaires révolutionnaires est sans précédent. Le 11 juillet 1792, l'Assemblée proclame « la Patrie en danger » et demande à tous les volontaires d’affluer vers Paris. À défaut d'expérience et de discipline, les volontaires apportent leur ardeur patriotique à l’armée, mais celle-ci manque rapidement d’hommes et d’officiers. Le 5 septembre 1798, le service militaire est finalement rendu obligatoire par la loi Jourdan-Delbrel, dont le premier article stipule que « tout Français est soldat et se doit à la défense de la patrie ».

 

[1] Milice : Troupe armée non officielle.

Anonyme
1789 et 1790
Sculpture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Joyeux départ des volontaires aux armées
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Joyeux départ des volontaires aux armées
Lesueur, Jean-Baptiste
Dating
Entre 1792 et 1793
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Joyeux départ des volontaires aux armées

Lesueur, Jean-Baptiste
Entre 1792 et 1793
Dessin, Arts graphiques
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Le citoyen Nau-Deville, en uniforme de la garde nationale, faisant transporter un convoi d'armes et de munitions
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Le citoyen Nau-Deville, en uniforme de la garde nationale, faisant transporter un convoi d'armes et de munitions
Bellier, Jean-François
Dating
1790
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Le citoyen Nau-Deville, en uniforme de la garde nationale, faisant transporter un convoi d'armes et de munitions

Bellier, Jean-François
1790
Peinture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

General Bonaparte

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Portrait de Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), général
Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Musée Carnavalet / Ville de Paris
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Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet. Photo Marie-Laure Berthier
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Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet. Photo Stéphane Piera
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Portrait de Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), général
Corbet, Charles-Louis
Dating
Vers 1798
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Portrait de Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), général

Ce buste est l’un des premiers portraits sculptés du général NapoléonBonaparte, qui deviendra Napoléon Ier, premier empereur des français. Il témoigne de la popularité grandissante du jeune général qui vient de conquérir la gloire en Italie et qui s’apprête à triompher en Orient. À son retour, la France est en crise. Le 18 brumaire an VIII (9 novembre 1799), il orchestre un coup d’État contre le Directoire et, le lendemain, il est nommé consul provisoire et un mois plus tard Premier Consul.

Bonaparte est représenté grandeur nature et portant son uniforme de général. Son allure est conforme aux descriptions de l'époque : visage mince, joues creusées, menton volontaire, cheveux longs noués dans la nuque avec des mèches lui tombant sur les tempes et le front. Le manteau drapé sur l'épaule appartient à la tradition du portrait d'apparat sculpté qui sert à souligner la grandeur des princes et des souverains dans les poses officielles ou héroïques. Ce buste a connu un succès immédiat et de nombreuses copies en marbre et en bronze en seront réalisées par la suite.

Corbet, Charles-Louis
Vers 1798
Sculpture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Portrait de Bonaparte (1762-1821), général

David d'Angers, Pierre-Jean
Sculpture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Portrait de Bonaparte (1762-1821), général
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Others visuals (2)
Portrait de Bonaparte (1762-1821), général
David d'Angers, Pierre-Jean
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

From 1789 on, the most visible signs of despotism and social inequality came under attack. This intensified with the king’s attempted escape (20 June 1791) and the abolition of the monarchy (10 August 1792).

In cities and in the country, statues of kings and saints, crosses, fleurs-de-lis and coats of arms were broken, defaced or hammered to pieces, creating in the process a new kind of public space. At the same time, in response to the needs of war, many Parisian churches became places of assembly, or were turned into hospitals, barracks or hay barns. The word ‘vandalism’ was used by Abbé Grégoire in 1794 to deplore such acts, but it obscures the fact that most of them were a concerted response to various laws and that excesses were generally condemned. Many of the objects taken were not destroyed but put on public display for the first time. It could be said that the Revolution invented the notion of ‘national heritage’, and was the creator of the first museums : the Muséum d’histoire naturelle, for example, in June 1793, the Muséum des Arts (the present Musée du Louvre) in November 1793, the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in October 1794, and the Musée des monuments français, created in 1795 by Alexandre Lenoir.

Destructions, obliterations and the invention of "National heritage"

the Musée des Monuments Français

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La Salle d'introduction du musée des Monuments français.
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
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La Salle d'introduction du musée des Monuments français.
Vauzelle, Jean Lubin
Dating
En 1804
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

La Salle d'introduction du musée des Monuments français.

Cette toile représente une salle du Musée des monuments français créé par le peintre Alexandre Lenoir. Il s’agit d’un des premiers musées français qui naissent sous la Révolution. Il ouvre au public en octobre 1795 dans les bâtiments du couvent des Petits-Augustins. Au début de la Révolution, il avait été transformé en dépôt destiné à accueillir les biens confisqués au clergé, à la suite du décret du 2 novembre 1789. L’objectif de Lenoir est de mettre ces nouveaux trésors nationaux à l’abri du « vandalisme » révolutionnaire et de la destruction des bâtiments, dont les nouveaux propriétaires se servent comme matériaux de construction.

Destiné à l’enseignement des citoyens, le cœur du musée se compose de plusieurs salles où des œuvres sculptées médiévales et modernes sont présentées suivant un classement chronologique qui permet au public de se faire une idée de l’évolution de la sculpture et de l’architecture en France. Les collections du musée permettent ainsi d’esquisser une nouvelle histoire de la Nation française.

Chaque salle se distingue des autres par un  décor et une atmosphère particulière. La salle dédiée au XVe siècle, représentée ici, reçoit par exemple une décoration luxueuse, dans le goût de l’époque. Près du tombeau, au centre de la pièce, on reconnaît Lenoir en train de commenter le monument à un visiteur. 

Vauzelle, Jean Lubin
En 1804
Peinture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Portrait d'Alexandre Lenoir (1762-1839), fondateur du musée des monuments français
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Portrait d'Alexandre Lenoir (1762-1839), fondateur du musée des monuments français
Bouliard, Marie-Geneviève
Dating
Vers 1796
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Portrait d'Alexandre Lenoir (1762-1839), fondateur du musée des monuments français

Bouliard, Marie-Geneviève
Vers 1796
Peinture, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Le Jardin du Musée des monuments français, ancien couvent des Petits-Augustins
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Le Jardin du Musée des monuments français, ancien couvent des Petits-Augustins
Robert, Hubert
Dating
En 1803
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Le Jardin du Musée des monuments français, ancien couvent des Petits-Augustins

Robert, Hubert
En 1803
Peinture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

The destruction of the royal tombs at Saint-Denis

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La Violation des caveaux des rois dans la basilique de Saint-Denis, en octobre 1793
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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La Violation des caveaux des rois dans la basilique de Saint-Denis, en octobre 1793
Robert, Hubert
Dating
Vers 1793
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

La Violation des caveaux des rois dans la basilique de Saint-Denis, en octobre 1793

Ce tableau représente la destruction des caveaux des rois conservés dans la basilique de Saint-Denis, la principale nécropole des rois de France depuis plusieurs siècles. La destruction des tombeaux est décrétée par la Convention nationale pour célébrer le premier anniversaire de la chute de la monarchie du 10 août 1792. En détruisant les symboles visibles de l’Ancien Régime, les révolutionnaires cherchent alors à faire table rase du passé.

Cette peinture montre comment ils sortent les cercueils de la crypte à l’aide de longues échelles avant de détruire les tombeaux et de jeter les dépouilles des rois dans des fosses communes. A travers la galerie souterraine détruite, on aperçoit les murs et les vitraux de la nef gothique de l’église. Le peintre joue sur le contraste entre l’obscurité de la crypte et l’élan lumineux, visible de la voûte. Cette toile est caractéristique du style du peintre Hubert Robert qui était fasciné par le thème des ruines antiques et, plus tard, par celles de la Révolution, ce qui lui a d’ailleurs valu le surnom de « Robert des ruines ». 

Robert, Hubert
Vers 1793
Peinture, Révolution française
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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L'Eglise des Feuillants en démolition
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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L'Eglise des Feuillants en démolition
Robert, Hubert
Dating
Vers 1804
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

L'Eglise des Feuillants en démolition

Robert, Hubert
Vers 1804
Peinture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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La Démolition de l'église Saint-Jean-en-Grève, en 1800
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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La Démolition de l'église Saint-Jean-en-Grève, en 1800
Robert, Hubert
Dating
Vers 1800
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

La Démolition de l'église Saint-Jean-en-Grève, en 1800

Robert, Hubert
Vers 1800
Peinture
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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Translation des restes de Louis XVI et de Marie-Antoinette à la basilique de Saint-Denis, le 21 janvier 1815
CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet
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Translation des restes de Louis XVI et de Marie-Antoinette à la basilique de Saint-Denis, le 21 janvier 1815
Dugourc, Jean-Démosthène
Dating
Entre 1810 et 1820
Museum
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

Translation des restes de Louis XVI et de Marie-Antoinette à la basilique de Saint-Denis, le 21 janvier 1815

Dugourc, Jean-Démosthène
Entre 1810 et 1820
Dessin, Arts graphiques
Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris
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