The people who eat kings

The people who eat kings

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Title: The people who eat kings

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : c. 1793

Dimensions: Height 10.9 - Width 46.9

Technique and other indications: etching

Storage location: Carnavalet museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © CC0 Paris Musées / Carnavalet Museum Link to image

Picture reference: G 26320

The people who eat kings

© CC0 Paris Museums / Carnavalet Museum

Publication date: November 2020

Historical context

The French Revolution, a privileged period for political cartoons, increased the use of mythological allegories despite the chronological gap with Antiquity. This work by an anonymous engraver, entitled The people who eat kings, dated around 1793, is to be echoed with an engaged contemporary drawing by Jacques-Louis David intended to decorate a stage curtain, Triumph of the French people, which also represents the people in Hercules triumphant on a chariot. The legend, "colossal statue proposed by the newspaper of the" Revolutions of Paris ", to be placed on the most eminent points of our borders", allows us to contextualize this caricatural image as a project of statuary work intended to have a great visibility. This newspaper, published daily since 1789, which housed prorevolutionary views, was very popular.

Image Analysis

A revolutionary Hercules

The composition inscribed in a scene of a military siege is inspired by ancient statuary while incorporating modern elements that update this highly political pictorial proposition. The people, personified in Hercules all in muscle identifiable by his heroic club and placed on a plinth, evoke the Greek and Roman statues, while the sculptures of the base (arms and a terraced figure topped by an inscription "death to the tyrants") and the elements of the “landscape” show its power and the legitimacy of its struggle. The effects of scale, deliberately accentuated in the caricature, display an oversized People-Hercules, whose superiority explodes against the king reduced to a tiny and helpless puppet. The torso tattooed with the title of the work "The people who eat kings", this People-Hercules seizes the crowned despot by the throat and suspends him above a brazier which, in the light of this tattoo, evokes a people cannibal who could roast his sovereign. Wearing a Phrygian cap, represented as a sans-culotte, framed by ramparts, cannons, spears surmounted by Phrygian caps facing military tents, this mythological allegory of the “besieged” French people clearly displays the popular revolutionary fight against the monarchy (s).

Interpretation

The people heroic thanks to mythology

This cartoon shows how mythology retains a relevance and a force in the European imagination which will be used to glorify, denounce or criticize long after Antiquity. While Heracles-Hercules has for centuries been instrumentalized by figures of royal power, this print proposes to reverse the balance of power by assimilating the people to the hero of the Twelve Labors. The hero thus becomes a popular figure to serve the cause of the Revolution where the oppressed people present themselves as overpowered against the monarchy. In this image, the people, as a collective element, are heroic like a new Hercules who has always embodied strength, strategy, order and legitimacy. Eliminating royalty thus becomes, thanks to this image, one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, that is to say a heroic fight, but also civilizing and vigilante. The violence of the scene, like a warning, indicates how the Revolution has entered a radical phase which advocates the elimination of the monarchy. This image must also fit more broadly into the context of the revolutionary war where France stands up against European monarchies as the words of La Marseillaise perfectly express.

  • French Revolution
  • allegory
  • mythology
  • Hercules
  • King
  • caricature
  • Iconography
  • sans culottes
  • Phrygian cap

Bibliography

François GENDRON, Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, P.U.F., 1989. Lynn HUNT, Hercules and the Radical Image in the French Revolution, Representations (1983) 2, p. 95–117.Jean TULARD, Jean-François FAYARD, Alfred FIERRO, History and dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, Laffont, 1987.

To cite this article

Sonia DARTHOU, "The People who eat Kings"

Glossary

  • Iconography: Set of images corresponding to the same subject. We speak of an iconographic program when a decoration in several parts brings together different subjects in a coherent way around the same theme.
  • Allegory: Figurative representation of an abstract idea.

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