The Death of Marat

During the most radical phase of the Revolution — from 1793 to 1794 — there was a political reason to encourage this more realist orientation. Reference to antiquity was natural only to a small well-educated audience. As the need to reach a more popular audience developed, images tended to become more descriptive. Even painters responded to this need when representing victims of the enemies of the Revolution, the so-called martyrs of Liberty who had sacrificed their lives for their country.


The French Revolution was a source of inspiration for image-makers, from modest anonymous engravers to famous painters and sculptors, who produced a wide array of images. Disconcerting in their variety at first glance, these images reflect the spirit of the period, echoing perfectly its rich and complex nature.


Engravers during the Revolution often worked in response to specific circumstances. Either for commercial or political reasons, they wanted their images to be on sale as quickly as possible. They were well aware that too complicated an image might defeat its purpose.

Lethière's Patrie en danger

Painters and sculptors, on the other hand, were conscious that their images might refer to a specific situation, but that they should aspire to express more universal or general ideas. They could not ignore that they would be judged on their capacity for invention, expression and composition; in other words, they were creating not only revolutionary images but also works of art. For this reason, paintings and sculpture count among the most powerful images of the Revolution, but at the same time the most complex and difficult to comprehend.

Another thing to keep in mind is the chronology of the period. Roughly speaking, during the French Revolution there were three periods. The first is from 1789 to 1792 when the revolutionaries and the king tried to work together. The images still evoke the monarchy and its symbols. Momentous events are celebrated. The mood is generally optimistic; a new era dawns.

A 19th Century Illustration of the Monument to Danton

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