The Massacre of Saint-Barthélemy

<em>The Massacre of Saint-Barthélemy</em>

  • The Massacre of Saint-Barthélemy.

    DUBOIS François, (1529 - 1584)

  • The Massacre of Saint-Barthélemy [the characters, places and scenes]

    DUBOIS François, (1529 - 1584)

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Title: The Massacre of Saint-Barthélemy.

Author : DUBOIS François, (1529 - 1584)

Creation date : c. 1572-1584

Date shown: 24 August 1572

Dimensions: Height 94 cm - Width 154 cm

Technique and other indications: oil on wood ; gift from the municipality of Lausanne, 1862; photo Nora Rupp, Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts, Lausanne

Storage place: Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts (Lausanne) website

Contact copyright: © Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts of Lausanne

Picture reference: Inv. 729

The Massacre of Saint-Barthélemy.

© Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts of Lausanne

To close

Title: The Massacre of Saint-Barthélemy [the characters, places and scenes]

Author : DUBOIS François, (1529 - 1584)

Creation date : around 1572-1584

Date shown: 24 August 1572

Dimensions: Height 94 cm - Width 154 cm

Technique and other indications: oil on wood ; gift from the municipality of Lausanne, 1862; photo Nora Rupp, Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts, Lausanne

Storage place: Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts (Lausanne) website

Contact copyright: © Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts of Lausanne

Picture reference: Inv. 729

The Massacre of Saint-Barthélemy [the characters, places and scenes]

© Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts of Lausanne

Publication date: September 2020

Professor of modern history, Université Lyon 2 - Member of the Religions, Societies and Acculturation team

Video

The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew

Video

Historical context

François Dubois, Protestant painter born in Amiens in 1529, escaped the massacres which occurred in Paris on August 24, 1572 and the following days, then in a dozen provincial towns.

Refugee in Geneva, the Calvinist capital, Dubois painted a large painting denouncing the violence committed by the most enthusiastic Parisian Catholics. This unique work is a memorial illustrating the sufferings of the “little flock” of God; martyrdom is a sign of election.

If, in Rome, the painter Vasari celebrates the extermination of heresy in frescoes commissioned by the Pope, Protestants, on the other hand, are extremely discreet about the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacres. There are a few engravings that evoke them, but no paintings and hardly any texts, as if the memory of this unprecedented event had to be buried.

This exceptional document is undoubtedly inspired by accounts of witnesses and perhaps a few written documents, but little is known of its genesis. It combines several iconographic traditions: the Massacre of the Innocents on the one hand, and on the other hand the so-called Triumvirate massacres, that is to say the executions ordered by the Roman triumvirs, Marc Antoine, Octave and Lepidus, a theme fashionable in France in the 1560s and 1570s.

Image Analysis

In the center of the image, in the background, is the Louvre [image 2, no 1], whose black door opens like an infernal mouth spewing out raging demons who murder men, women and children. The vanishing axes of the painting converge towards this scene. A dark silhouette stands out in front of the building [picture 2, A]: it is Catherine de Medici, the mother of King Charles IX. The Queen Mother also appears in two other places in the painting, on the bridge and near the Seine, at the bottom left of the painting. If Catherine de Medici was not present during the massacre, Dubois inserts it in his painting in order to blame her for this massacre.

The house of Admiral de Coligny [picture 2, noo 2], the military leader of the Huguenot party, appears in the center of the image. The tragic end of the admiral is represented in three stages [image 2, B]: the body is first cleared, then the beheaded corpse lies at the feet of three lords, new triumvirs, one of them [image 2, C] - perhaps the young Duke of Guise, who considered Coligny to be the sponsor of his father's assassination in 1563 - brandishing the victim's severed head like a hunting trophy. A soldier emasculates the body, which is then dragged to the gibbet of Montfaucon, site of the judicial executions, shown in the background on the right [image 2, no 3].

On the other side of the Seine is the Church of the Grands-Augustins [picture 2, noo 4], Sainte-Geneviève mountain [image 2, no 5] as well as the Nesle tower [image 2, no 6].

The topography of this painting is inaccurate, but it can be explained by the painter's desire to bring together in this scene all the notable facts and places of the episodes of Saint-Barthélemy.

Interpretation

The Saint-Barthélemy massacre was the height of religious violence in the XVIe century. Following the attack carried out against Admiral de Coligny on August 22, 1572 - of which the person in charge was certainly Maurevert, in the pay of the Guise -, the massacre of the main Protestant leaders gathered in Paris on the occasion of the wedding of the young Henri de Navarre with Marguerite, daughter of Queen Catherine de Medici, is decided at Court. Dubois's painting clearly attributes responsibility for the violence to the queen mother and contributes to the construction of the black legend of this princess.

The first phase of the assassinations, which concerned the Protestant lords living in the Louvre or in the neighboring streets, followed a second phase which testified to the extreme resentment Parisian Catholics had towards Protestants. The militia, secretly summoned during the night, massacres several thousand people.

The surge of violence is presented here not only as a horrific manifestation of the queen’s tyranny, but also as a kind of macabre apocalypse in which a nameless barbarism is unleashed: babies are martyred, pregnant women are beaten. The small children themselves engage in this incredible violence. Dubois also evokes the looting in which some engaged. Protestants were, in fact, on the whole wealthy people or craftsmen with a socio-cultural level above the average of the population. The world is turned upside down. The earth is hell. About three thousand people were murdered between August 24 and 28. The bodies thrown into the Seine washed up at the foot of Chaillot Hill, while the rest were carted outside the city.

  • religious war
  • Catholicism
  • Protestantism
  • assassinations
  • execution
  • Paris
  • massacre
  • Saint-Barthélemy

Bibliography

BEIL Ralph (dir.), The World according to François Dubois, painter of Saint-Barthélemy, cat. exp. (Lausanne, 2003-2004), Lausanne, Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts, coll. "Les Cahiers du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne" (no 13), 2004.BENEDICT Philip, The gaze captures history: the wars, massacres and troubles of Tortorel and Perrissin, Geneva, Droz, coll. “Current title” (no 47), 2012.CROUZET Denis, The Night of Saint-Barthélemy: a lost dream of the Renaissance, Paris, Fayard, coll. "Chronicles", 1994.ELSIG Frédéric (dir.), From the Renaissance to Romanticism: French and English paintings from the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne, cat. exp. (Lausanne, 2013), Lausanne, Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts, coll. “The Notebooks of the Museum of Fine Arts of Lausanne” (no 18), 2013.JOUANNA Arlette, Saint-Barthélemy: the mysteries of a state crime (August 24, 1572), Paris, Gallimard, coll. "The Days which made France", 2007.LE ROUX Nicolas, The Wars of Religion (1559-1629), Paris, Belin, coll. “History of France”, 2009.

To cite this article

Nicolas LE ROUX, " The Massacre of Saint-Barthélemy »


Video: What is The Saint Bartholomews Day massacre.