Those who shared this opinion were less impressed by the fall of the Bastille than by the king's triumphal visit to Paris a few days later, a ceremonious event which seemed to reconcile the monarch with his people, an idea conveyed by many of the the prints.

Thus, images do not simply show what happened. They give the events political meaning and importance.


Visit of the king to Paris

 

Commissioning and selling prints was one way to influence public opinion. Which event was depicted and how it was depicted, what situation was deemed important, reflected directly on one's political view.

 


Print of the Oath of the Tennis Court

It was easier to describe an event than to communicate its political meaning. Representations of battles, assemblies, ceremonies and processions tended to follow well-established conceptions.

How could an engraver or a painter make the viewer realize that a particular event had a specifically revolutionary character?

To get this point across, there were several options. Titles and captions, and sometimes even very long texts could be joined to the image. Certain details could be numbered with reference to an explanatory key indicating who and what was represented.

Still another way to communicate the significance of the event represented was to introduce symbols and allegories.

This could be done either discreetly without disturbing the generally realistic effect — for example, by placing a symbol on a flag — or overtly, by employing unrealistic elements such as inscriptions in unlikely places or allegorical personifications in the air.

 

With regard to this last option, one must remember that during the Revolution in France (and that goes for any other time and place in history) there was a shared visual and political culture among contemporaries.


Allegorical Print of the Oath of the Tennis Court

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