Liberty Leading the People. A short recollection of historical events in revolutionary France

JMA_Lacroix_LiberteLiberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix depicting events that took place in Paris in 1830, on display in the Louvre Museum.

I remembered having seen the painting many times during history lessons, as being symbolic for the French revolution it is usually reprinted in school books.

A topless woman being a French symbol for the Liberty is leading Parisians under the tricolor banner that stands for liberty (blue), equality (white), and fraternity (red) during the July revolution of 1830.

There is also an alternate symbolism behind the French national colours: blue stands for bourgeoisie, white for clergy and red for the nobility. The division corresponds to the three estate classification that preserved for centuries in historical Europe. Clergy was the First Estate, nobles were the Second Estate and peasants and bourgeoisie were the Third Estate.

The painting is that well-known that it is easy to forget that it depicts the second wave of the French revolution (of 1830) and not the events that took place forty years earlier.

  • The French revolution (known as the First French Revolution) commonly associated among others with storming and demolition of the Bastille took place in 1789. The Bastille Day, which is the 14th of July, is celebrated today as the French National Day. The Revolution began as during a political impasse the Third Estate (bourgeoisie) formed into a National Assembly (13 June 1789).
  • It took however more than three years of political turmoil till the French proclaimed the First Republic (21 September 1792) abolishing the monarchy. The act was undertaken by a National Convention elected under the first male universal suffrage in France. This did not however end the political turmoil.
  • In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte took power in the Republic and finally turned France into the French Empire. With his defeat and the Congress of Vienna (1815) the monarchy was reestablished in France with another Bourbon king on the French throne.
  • Bourbons were overthrown by the July revolution of 1830, the one that was depicted by Delacroix. One king was however replaced by another. (By the way, the events of July revolution inspired Belgians who after years of struggle finally got their independence in 1830. >>>)
  • The monarchy under the House of Orleans lasted till 1848, when after removal of an unpopular king, the Second Republic was proclaimed.
  • The Second Republic was yet again seized by yet another Bonaparte, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew. Once again France turned into an Empire (1852).
  • Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was removed in 1870 in times of Franco-Prussian war that was fought further by the Government of National Defence under the auspices of the Third Republic. The times of monarchies in France were finally over.