Imaging the French Revolution Discussion
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D. This exchange emerged in response to a question that asked if studying these images could contribute to the historiography regarding the crowd. While this discussion includes some of the claims made in various essays, it also makes scholarly differences more understandable and distinct and connects historiography back to methodological considerations.

This was not how François-Noël Babeuf regarded the murder of Foulon and Bertier, which he witnessed personally. He did not try to explain away or downplay the violence; he tried to understand it in its own contemporary context:

“Our punishments of every kind, quartering, torture, the wheel, the stake, and the gibbet, and the multiplicity of executioners on all sides, have had such a bad effect on our morals! Our masters, instead of policing us, have made us barbarians, because they are barbarous themselves. They are reaping and will reap what they have sown.”1

Others who witnessed the killing of Foulon and Bertier responded much as Babeuf did. Restif de la Bretonne felt that these deeds were “worthy of cannibals.” The journalist Elysée Loustalot felt that the severed head of Foulon, with hay stuffed in its mouth, “announced to tyrants the terrible vengeance of a justly angered people.” He also said that the procession that led Bertier to the Hôtel de Ville was accompanied by fifes and drums that declared “the cruel joy of the people.”2

Prieur’s illustrations [Images 25 and 31] depicting the events of July 22 can be compared to the observations of Babeuf, Restif de la Bretonne, and Loustalot. All of these contemporary responses to the murder of Foulon and Bertier emphasized popular vengeance, and cruelty. In his journalistic account of the procession that led Bertier to the Hôtel de Ville, Loustalot comments on the “cruel joy of the people.” This is a dimension of the journée of July 22 that doesn’t come through in Rudé’s analysis; it is one that comes through vividly in Prieur’s images. His images, it seems to me, add to our understanding of revolutionary crowds in action. As with contemporary textual sources, Prieur’s images are evidence that historians can use to reconstruct events that drove the revolution in directions that no one at the time could have predicted.

1 Roberts, Jean-Louis Prieur, 108.
2 Ibid.

Subject: what we can learn about the crowd
Posted By: Lynn Hunt
Date Posted: June 23, 2003, 11:04 PM

Warren raises issues that beg for more extended analysis. I see two points at work (the second is one that I harp on, I know, so apologies to all for that!): 1) The absolutely essential, groundbreaking work on the crowd by Rudé, Soboul, and Lefebvre was written in reaction to the crowd psychology of the late 19th century that had been much influenced by H. Taine. Rudé et al. wanted to overturn the “reactionary” view of the crowd (associated with Taine and also Gustave LeBon) as hysterical, irrational, and dominated by females out of control. They emphasized the solidity and respectability of its members, their maleness, their family orientation, their rationality. The images - at least some of them - force us to recapture a side of crowd behavior that the “history from below” people inevitably downplayedits exuberant, sometimes self-conscious, sometimes unconscious cruelty. Many of the images capture a crowd that is far from the rational, organized vision of someone such as Charles Tilly or George Rudé; the images often capture an almost Freudian, “return of the repressed” vision of atavistic revenge. 2) On the other hand, as I've said over and over (this is the harping part), the very fact of sketching and engraving images that have some kind of status as art entails a certain minimization of these violent qualities that threaten to dissolve all forms of order. So what is truly wonderful about the images is that they often capture, if only inadvertently, the fundamental AMBIVALENCE that many people must have felt about the crowd as something not entirely rational, bent on a form of justice that was not particularly attractive, and yet a fact of revolutionary politics that simply could not be wished away. This ambivalence had been lost in the historiography of the 1960s-1970s that was so concerned to reassert the rationality of the lower classes (though Georges Lefebvre certainly did not lose sight of this ambivalence, and he alone of “history from below” historians was willing to venture on a more psychological analysis of crowd behavior). In short, somehow the images get closer to the psychological questions raised by crowd violence than does much of the textual evidence.

Subject: RE: what we can learn about the crowd
Posted By: Barbara Day-Hickman
Date Posted: July 15, 2003, 12:58 PM

I would concur with Lynn that most of the prints in our selection demonstrate ambivalence between the representation of crowd brutality and the artist's more subdued or rational interpretation of the revolutionary narrative. For example, in the “Hanging of Foulon” [Image 25], Jean-Louis Prieur establishes a “safe” separation between the violence of the lynching scene in the background and the assembling crowd in the foreground. Furthermore, the artist separates the viewer from the disturbing reenactment of crowd violence by locating the point of view of the composition somewhat opposite and above the suspended victim. With a panoramic view of the events in the square below, Prieur's audience has a privileged perspective that encompasses the entire scene “at a distance.” Instead of dramatizing the death scene, the artist reduces the size of the victim and dancing hangmen to miniscule figures that either shadow or merge with the mass of figures in the rear. The viewer's eye is rather drawn to the myriad activities going on in the square, from the soldiers who are in perpetual motion to the viewers who wave and witness the event from open windows, to the mass of spectators that extend up and around the street (rue Mouton?) to a vanishing point beyond audience purview. Thus, while Prieur achieves a convincing sort of documentary realism through his skillful rendering of the event, the complexity of his reportage manages to disengage his audience from the more disturbing and offensive aspects of Foulon's torture. Similarly, in terms of affect, ambivalence is apparent. The artist both invites his viewer to become engaged in the fascination of the death scene while he concurrently shields his audience from its impact through the intervention of the surrounding crowd. The artist thus creates a compelling attraction toward and distraction from details of the gruesome spectacle portrayed on the distant street corner.

Subject: Responses to Barbara
Posted By: Warren Roberts
Date Posted: July 19, 2003, 10:31 AM

I have nothing to add to Barbara's fine reading of Prieur's Hanging of Foulon [Image 25], which brings out most effectively the disengagement that attends the image. This is in striking contrast, I feel, to Prieur's Intendant Bertier de Sauvigny [Image 31], which is the sequel to his Hanging of Foulon. Here, in the sequel, the perspective is up-close; the macabre scene is viewed at street level; the violence is, so to speak, in your face. In the Hanging of Foulon image we see a crowd lynching a hated official at a distance; the viewer actually has to look carefully at the image, to scrutinize it, to know what is happening. This is in contrast to the Intendant Bertier de Sauvigny image, in which the decapitated head of Foulon is in the center of the work, with straw stuffed in the mouth. This contrast should be seen within the context of how prints for the Tableaux historiques were issued for sale to the public: They were sold in livrets of two, with accompanying texts. Prieur's drawing, Bertier de Sauvigny, wasn't engraved and offered for sale to the public, along with the Hanging of Foulon print, which was to have preceded it. It seems to me that a reading of the first of these related images should consider the other as well. The disengagement of one might be seen as a way to set the stage for the other, and to drive home its point. We should imagine the two images appearing together, one next to the other. To do this is to see the disengagement of one image as a foil for the directness of the other.

Subject: RE:Response to Warren and Final Remarks
Posted By: Barbara Day-Hickman
Date Posted: July 25, 2003, 1:14 PM

May I make one final riposte to Warren regarding his comments about the relationship between Prieur's “Hanging of Foulon” [Image 25] and the “Bertier de Sauvigny“ engraving [Image 31]. While Prieur may have constructed an intentional contrast by using a “distanced” perspective in the former, and a more gruesome “directness” in the latter, the formality of the visual narrative in both prints still disengages the viewer from the horror of the recognition scene. The “Bertier” print, in particular, describes a relatively orderly procession, much like the classical relief of a temple frieze. It would thus seem to emphasize the ritualistic rather than macabre nature of the event. Furthermore, Christian statues in the background of the Bertier scene plus the gothic vertical lines on the church wall suggest the sacrificial implications of the narrative. The juxtaposition of the head of Foulon and the Christian statues may not necessarily register an ironic contrast but rather some sort of religious endorsement of the event. In other words, the backdrop of Saint-Merry could legitimize the sacrifice of Foulon and Bertier as an expression of the righteous indignation of the crowd. Prieur reinforces this idea by showing a purposeful crowd moving in one direction across the middle ground of the print. He also softens the impact of crowd violence by including (male) children who endeavor to emulate the bravado and prowess of the soldiers and citizens in the foreground. Consequently, despite the magnification of the “Bertier” narrative, Prieur nevertheless reduces the impact of crowd violence through the elegance of his style, the orderliness of the narrative, and the classical format of his “convoi funèbre.” I would therefore agree with Lynn that accomplished and pro-revolutionary artists, such as Prieur, muted the threatening nature of crowd violence with both style and intention.

Subject: Response to Barbara
Posted By: Warren Roberts
Date Posted: July 28, 2003, 10:33 AM

There is much that I agree with in Barbara's fine and perceptive reading of Prieur's Bertier de Sauvigny image [Image 31]. I agree with her and Lynn when they say that trained, skilled illustrators, such as Prieur, muted crowd violence, in comparison to illustrators who did cheap and what one might call more popular images of revolutionary crowds in action. For Prieur, muting of crowd violence was necessary, I suspect, given the cost of Tableaux historiques prints and the audience for which they were intended. The question of disengagement seems to me to be more problematic, insofar as Prieur's Bertier image is concerned. Yes, Prieur has brought out the ritualistic dimension of the procession, but not to see Foulon's head stuck on a pike with straw stuffed in its mouth as macabre is to pass over something that seems obvious to me. That head is not only central to the image compositionally but defines what it is about. This strikes me as macabre. As for the religious statuary behind the head of Foulon, is there ironic contrast, as I suggest, or is there religious endorsement of the event, as Barbara suggests? Did Prieur set the procession against the background of the church of Saint Merry and its religious statuary to express religious endorsement of the crowd's murder of its enemies, which included decapitation and evisceration of dead bodies? Not, I should think, in any direct way. I still see an ironic contrast between the crowd and its trophy in the foreground and the church of Saint Merry in the background. And I continue to be struck between the contrast between Prieur's two images, those depicting Foulon's hanging and a crowd escorting Bertier de Sauvigny to the Place de Grève [Images 25 and 31]. The contrast between these images is the work of a skilled artist, not only technically but also in the dramatization of popular violence.

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