Bust of Bailly

The Drinking King

Some engravers enhanced their portraits with allegorical and symbolic motifs that underline the political resonance of these images. As the Revolution unfolded, certain individuals were regularly in the limelight and seemed to embody the new spirit.


Figure in Revolutionary Costume Inspired by the Antique

Civic-minded administrators like the first mayor of Paris, Bailly; impressive orators like Mirabeau; and shrewd politicians like Robespierre. Not only prints, but full busts were produced to pay homage to these revolutionary leaders. There portrait busts also reflected the passion which the revolutionaries had for antiquity, in this case for Roman busts.

This passion had been building up since the middle of the 18th century. Artists and writers on art espoused that the ancient Greeks and Romans furnished models of beauty and inspiration. The political aspect of this taste emerged more gradually. First the Greek notion that political liberty was the best encouragement of the arts, then the rigorous civic-mindedness characteristic of the Roman republic. In France, when the Republic was for the first time ever proclaimed in 1792, it seemed to many as if history was repeating itself. Reference to antiquity was natural to the French revolutionaries when they sought to create forms and images of their own time.


Contemporary allegories, symbols, costumes, festivals, monuments and language — all manifest the influence of this ancient past.


There was also a somewhat contradictory concern, which has been mentioned in relation to the images of events and actors — the impulse to show real situations. Many contemporaries thought that the French Revolution and the progress of liberty, government, knowledge and science far surpassed what had been attained in antiquity. This modern spirit inspired many artists to represent with fresh eyes the social reality of their time.

The Festival of the Supreme Being

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13