Marianne  

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Liberty Leading the People (detail) (1831) by Eugène Delacroix
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Liberty Leading the People (detail) (1831) by Eugène Delacroix

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Marianne is a national symbol of the French Republic, a personification of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty.

Marianne is displayed in many places in France and holds a place of honour in town halls and law courts. She symbolizes the Triumph of the Republic, a bronze sculpture overlooking the Place de la Nation in Paris, and is represented with another Parisian statue in the Place de la République. Her profile stands out on the official government logo of the country, is engraved on French euro coins and appears on French postage stamps; it was also featured on the former franc currency. Marianne is one of the most prominent symbols of the French Republic, and is officially used on most government documents.

Marianne is a significant republican symbol. As a national icon she represents opposition to monarchy and the championship of freedom and democracy against all forms of oppression. Other national symbols of France include the tricolor flag, the national motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, the national anthem "La Marseillaise", as well as the coat of arms and the official Great Seal of France.

History

In classical times it was common to represent ideas and abstract entities by gods, goddesses and allegorical personifications. Less common during the Middle Ages, this practice resurfaced during the Renaissance. During the French Revolution of 1789, many allegorical personifications of 'Liberty' and 'Reason' appeared. These two figures finally merged into one: a female figure, shown either sitting or standing, and accompanied by various attributes, including the tricolor cockade and the Phrygian cap. This woman typically symbolised Liberty, Reason, the Nation, the Homeland, and the civic virtues of the Republic. (Compare the Statue of Liberty, created as Liberty Enlightening the World by French artist Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, with a copy in both Paris and Saint-Étienne.) In September 1792, the National Convention decided by decree that the new seal of the state would represent a standing woman holding a spear with a Phrygian cap held aloft on top of it.

Historian Maurice Agulhon, who in several well-known works set out on a detailed investigation to discover the origins of Marianne, suggests that it is the traditions and mentality of the French that led to the use of a woman to represent the Republic. A feminine allegory was also a manner to symbolise the breaking with the old monarchy headed by kings, and promote modern republican ideology. Even before the French Revolution, the Kingdom of France was embodied in masculine figures, as depicted in certain ceilings of Palace of Versailles. Furthermore, France and the Republic themselves are, in French, feminine nouns (la France, la République), as are the French nouns for liberty (Liberté) and reason (Raison).

The use of this emblem was initially unofficial and very diverse. A female allegory of Liberty and of the Republic makes an appearance in Eugène Delacroix's painting Liberty Leading the People, painted in July 1830 in honour of the Three Glorious Days (or July Revolution of 1830).

The debate about Islamic dress

Marianne voilée

Marianne has featured prominently in the Islamic scarf controversy in France as a symbol of a certain idea of Frenchness. The American historian Joan Wallach Scott wrote in 2016 that it is no accident that Marianne is often depicted as bare-breasted regardless of where she is or what she is doing, as this reflects the French ideal of a woman, which has been used as an argument for why Islamic dress for women is not French. Scott wrote the topless Marianne has become "...the embodiment of emancipated French women in contrast to the veiled woman said to be subordinated by Islam". Later in 2016, the French Premier Manuel Valls stated in a speech that the burkini swimsuit was an “enslavement” of women and that Marianne was usually topless which The Economist noted: "The implication seemed to be that women in burkinis are un-French, while true French women go topless." In a speech on 29 August 2016, Valls said: “Marianne has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free! That is the republic!”. Angelique Chisafis of The Guardian newspaper reported: "The inference that bare breasts were a symbol of France while the Muslim headscarf was problematic sparked scorn from politicians and derision from historians and feminists". The French president François Hollande sparked much debate in France with his controversial statement “The veiled woman will be the Marianne of tomorrow”.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Marianne" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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