The beginnings of the Terror

The beginnings of the Terror

  • Elisabeth de Cazotte saves her father's life in the Abbey prison. (September 23, 1792)

    THÉVENIN Claude-Noël (1800 - 1849)

  • Death of the Princess of Lamballe.

    FAIVRE Léon-Maxime (1856 - 1941)

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Title: Elisabeth de Cazotte saves her father's life in the Abbey prison. (September 23, 1792)

Author : THÉVENIN Claude-Noël (1800 - 1849)

Creation date : 1834

Date shown: September 23, 1792

Dimensions: Height 236 - Width 261

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas Baron and Baroness de Vaufreland Collection; donation, 1944

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Elisabeth de Cazotte saves her father's life in the Abbey prison. (September 23, 1792)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: Death of the Princess of Lamballe.

Author : FAIVRE Léon-Maxime (1856 - 1941)

Creation date : 1908

Date shown: September 3, 1792

Dimensions: Height 265 - Width 367

Technique and other indications: oil on canvasHistoric: Salon of the Society of French Artists, 1908, n ° 638; Levade collection; gift of Madame Charles Levade, daughter of the artist, 1942.

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Death of the Princess of Lamballe.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: October 2003

Historical context

Revolutionary historiography, very developed in the XIXe century although it often took the form of the opinions professed by its authors, whether left (Michelet) or right (Taine), quickly passed into iconography in the form of events taken out of context. They take place at the time of the fall of the monarchy (August 10, 1792) and the terrible massacres of September. The elections to the Convention ended with the proclamation of the Republic on September 21, the day after Valmy's victory. The people of Paris were pushing for a total overhaul of the political structures of France, accusing, not without reason, the monarchy of having profited from the war, however declared by the Girondins: "The imbeciles! They do not see that it is to serve us, "the queen had said.

The two events depicted reveal the serious social tensions of this period, when opponents of the Revolution and aristocrats were accused of all evils. The excesses are well known: it was indeed the sans-culottes who paid the heaviest price to the guillotine.

Image Analysis

Elisabeth de Cazotte saves her father's life in the Abbey prison by Claude-Noël Thévenin

Jacques Cazotte (1719-1792), preromantic literator master of the fantastic (The Devil in Love, 1772), was hostile to the Revolution. Locked in the Abbey prison in Paris, he narrowly avoided summary execution, thanks to the intervention of his daughter, who agreed to drink blood. This did not prevent him from being guillotined two days later, officially condemned by the Revolutionary Tribunal. The scene was related in particular by Gérard de Nerval in The Illuminated (1852). But the table predates this publication. Thévenin contrasts the luminous figures of Cazotte and his daughter with those of their executioners. The work is meant to be both realistic and religious, as the writer's skyward gaze shows. Death in God - the young girl appears as the materialized image of purity - stops the hand of the assassins: the hesitation of the sans-culottes on the right is opposed to the order given on the left. The connection between the two parts of the painting is made around the gaze of the old man who draws the hand of a sans-culotte breaking the momentum of an ax. This knot of gestures and gazes is the last rest of the registers of classical painting, registers that started from the reality located at the bottom of the paintings to the divine level located at the top. A romantic work, the painting still marks the idea of ​​the superiority of God over reality.

Death of the Princess of Lamballe by Léon-Maxime Faivre

All of this is very blurred in Faivre’s work, inspired by a passage fromHistory of the Revolution by Michelet, as the 1908 Salon libretto recalls. The painting represents a rather violent scene, while Michelet, very literary, spares the executor people, whom he supports, while magnifying the princess, "naked as God!" 'had made'. Faivre, a simple illustrator of the historian's text, however accentuates the split between the protagonists, which Michelet, on the contrary, tries to minimize. This realistic, objective scene shows in all its violence the after-execution, the crowd assembled around the naked corpse; it is only in the background that the swords of the torturers emerge. Faivre carefully avoids showing the decapitation itself, too harsh, and which would have devalued the people in their fight for justice. The work dates from 1908, that is, from the time of the victorious republic. If the spirit differs from Michelet to Faivre, it is also because the former is a romantic, while Faivre is a man of capitalist democracy and triumphant materialism. Yet the artist contrasts the purity of a naked woman's body (she is naked in the sketch for the Musée de Vizille) transcended by death to the rusticity of the common people of Paris.


These two works are inspired by dramas experienced by women during the events of September 1792. But these women are opposed to the Revolution. One passive, murdered for being the friend of the queen, the other, active, trying to save her father in an attitude of honor and religiosity. Two paintings, two eras. If that of Thévenin is presented in a classic way, highlighting heroes transfigured by filial love while they are surrounded by unleashed sans-culottes, symbols of death, that of Faivre is totally objective in its representation. While he spares a people aware of their excesses, he also transfigures the Princess of Lamballe, a figure irradiated with light by death. Thévenin is undoubtedly critical of the toughest revolutionaries because the artist carries out his work under Louis-Philippe, sovereign of the golden mean. With Faivre, the Republic begins its self-criticism: it does not condemn the people, whose fight is considered legitimate, but it observes its excesses and recognizes its errors. This is the meaning given by the painter to the figures of fishwomen and children, these symbolizing the future. Democracy cannot be satisfied with crimes, which is expressed in the accusing gesture of the old woman who points the princess's naked body to a political commissar. The republic cannot be founded on assassination. In this sense, Thévenin and Faivre come together.

  • revolutionary days
  • September massacres
  • sans culottes
  • Terror
  • women
  • historiography
  • French Revolution
  • jail
  • massacre
  • September
  • religious
  • nobility
  • romanticism
  • Republic
  • dead
  • fishwoman
  • child
  • Convention
  • Michelet (Jules)
  • Nerval (Gérard de)
  • Lamballe (Princess of)
  • Taine (Hippolyte)
  • Valmy


François FURET "Louis XVI" in Critical Dictionary of the French RevolutionParis, Flammarion, 1988, re-ed. “Champs”, 1992 Evelyne LEVER,Louis XVI,Paris, Fayard, 1985.Alexis PHILOMENKO,The Death of Louis XVI,Paris, Bartillat, 2000. Michael WALTZER,Regicide and revolution. The trial of Louis XVI, speech and controversy,Paris, Payot, 1999 Claire CONSTANS,National Museum of Versailles, volume I "Les Peintures" Paris, RMN, 1995. Exhibition catalog,The French Revolution and Europe, Grand Palais, volume II "The revolutionary event" Paris, RMN, 1989.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "The beginnings of the Terror"

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