The revolutionary cult of reason in the year II

The revolutionary cult of reason in the year II

  • Interior decoration of the Temple of Reason established in Saint-Maurice de Lille with the Statue of Liberty.

    VERLY Francois

  • Country decor made for the Temple of Reason established in Saint-Maurice de Lille.

    VERLY Francois

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Title: Interior decoration of the Temple of Reason established in Saint-Maurice de Lille with the Statue of Liberty.

Author : VERLY François (-)

Creation date : 1794

Date shown: 1794

Dimensions: Height 48 - Width 38.5

Technique and other indications: Watercolor

Storage place: North Departmental Archives website

Contact copyright: © North Departmental Archives - Photo J.-L. Thieffry

Picture reference: Museum 333/21

Interior decoration of the Temple of Reason established in Saint-Maurice de Lille with the Statue of Liberty.

© North Departmental Archives - Photo J.-L. Thieffry

To close

Title: Country decor made for the Temple of Reason established in Saint-Maurice de Lille.

Author : VERLY François (-)

Creation date : 1794

Date shown: 1794

Dimensions: Height 48 - Width 38.5

Technique and other indications: Watercolor

Storage place: North Departmental Archives website

Contact copyright: © North Departmental Archives - Photo J.-L. Thieffry

Picture reference: Museum 333/22

Country decor made for the Temple of Reason established in Saint-Maurice de Lille.

© Nord departmental archives - Photo J.-L. Thieffry

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Lille and the revolutionary cult

In French history, the "dechristianization" undertaken from Brumaire Year II (November 1793) resulted in the only interruption of Catholic worship for at least a year and throughout the country. It leaves the municipalities to decide on the allocation of churches to the worship chosen by the citizens. Worship ceremonies are abolished, even if Christian resistance and permanence remain.

A set of new ceremonies qualified as "revolutionary cults" is set up. The ceremonies are entrusted to directors, "citizen-artists" like David or Marie-Joseph Chénier [2], and organized as a means of propaganda to generate popular support for the Revolution.

The Lille municipal council decided, in September 1793, to transform the Saint-Maurice church into a temple of Reason. But the end of the Terror did not interrupt the republican ceremonies born in Year II which continued until the end of the Directory, when this decoration disappeared.

Image Analysis

The framework of official worship

The church has been stripped of all its religious ornaments and paintings, and bleachers are arranged around its perimeter. As for the feast of the Federation of Lille, Verly uses light and inexpensive materials: wood, canvas, fabric. In the center of the building, he places a frame representing the Mountain. At the top of the hillock stands a Statue of Liberty by the Douaisian sculptor Charles-Louis Corbet. Liberty is represented by a young woman, draped in the antique style, wearing a Phrygian cap and holding a civic crown in her left hand. Made in marble, it cost 40,000 pounds. Around the columns of the building are painted trees whose foliage climbs to the vaults. Ancient processions, engraved on the ruins, seem arranged to prefigure the parades organized by any official revolutionary cult, in the open air, and whose end is the church transformed into a temple.

Behind the Mountain is sketched a trompe l'oeil decoration depicting a rural landscape with rocky ground which the second watercolor shows in detail. Breaking through the clouds of darkness, a lightning bolt - the Supreme Being - strikes down the symbols of the hated Ancien Régime: throne, altar, missal, ciborium and crown. In this reconstituted natural landscape, the tomb of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is shaded by willows and poplars. In a cave we find that of Marat.

Interpretation

Reason, Freedom, Supreme Being and new values

The divinity proposed for worship in the temple of Lille is Liberty and not Reason, as was also the case on 20 Brumaire Year II (10 November 1793), during the transformation of Notre-Dame de Paris into the temple of Reason. . The same allegories are found in the songs that accompany the ceremonies. Thus, the hymn to Liberty by Marie-Joseph Chénier, to music by François Gossec, composed for the Parisian festival, opens with "Descends, ô Liberté, fille de la Nature"; at the top of the mountain, at the entrance to the small round temple dedicated to philosophy, "the faithful image of Beauty appearing" is also that of Liberty.

The decoration revealed by these two watercolors follows the common repertoire of all revolutionary festivals. Their symbolism illustrates the will of the lawmakers of the Revolution to found on the ruins of the Ancien Régime catholic and "fanatic" not an individualized worship, but a set of ceremonies integrating revolutionary values ​​and symbols. The feast must contribute to radically transform mentalities by adopting as new values: the republican calendar and the Decadi, replacing the feasts of saints and Sundays, family morality, Nature and commemorations.

All the arts, architecture through this decor, sculpture and also music, contribute to the staging of new ideals. By removing the spaces of darkness and mystery from the church and replacing them with this pastoral decor, the layout transformed the church into a whole different place. The revolutionary celebrations of Year II left their mark on contemporaries, actors and spectators, for a moment realizing the utopia of the new city. In this setting, drinking and dancing doubtless appeared less like profanation. But through these festivals, all the contradictions of the political and the sacred have also been integrated into the heart of the revolutionary mentality.

  • allegory
  • Catholicism
  • Convention
  • dechristianization
  • Be supreme
  • atheism
  • Freedom
  • Lille
  • French Revolution

Bibliography

Mona OZOUF, The Revolutionary Feast 1789-1799 Paris, Gallimard, 1976. Albert SOBOUL, Historical Dictionary of the Revolution Paris, PUF, 1989. Claudine WALLART, "The revolutionary cult of Reason" in Anthology of the Departmental Archives of the North , 2000, p.120.

Notes

1. In this period of militant anticlericalism, priests are forced to give up their ministry.

2. Brother of the poet André Chénier guillotined in July 1794.

3. A series of sketches of the ruins, taken from life by François Verly, are kept in the Departmental Archives of the North.

4. After having attended the Royal Academy of Architecture in Paris, François Verly (1760-1822) proved his worth by organizing, in Paris, the celebrations for the birth of Louis XVI's second son, in 1785, and by , in Lille, the Champ-de-Mars for the feast of the Federation, in 1790.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS and Claudine WALLART, "The revolutionary cult of reason in the year II"


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