Happy Bastille Day!

On this day in 1789, an angry mob of Parisians stormed the Bastille, an architectural symbol of monarchical oppression, and began a revolution that changed the course of world history.

The color engraving shows Victory in the guise of a little girl celebrating the dogs’ destruction of a model of the Bastille that had collapsed from a table while a boy soldier beats the drum of history watching this ordeal with a stunned and somewhat disengaged look.

Representing this event in the seemingly-innocent language of children’s play surely downplays the violence and turmoil of the political culture of this time. It also suggests the regenerative potential of this event, the new, healthy changes to come to French monarchy (at this time, not many knew that it would eventually be overthrown) that the collapse of a medieval royal prison symbolized. But there’s so much ambivalence in this image–the frigidity of the children, the feral creatures tearing down the Bastille in an animal frenzy, the disenchanted look of the boy soldier… The storming of the Bastille as reimagined allegorically here can be interpreted in so many different ways, as it has been in all endeavors to understand this chapter of history we call the French Revolution.

La Bastille détruite ou la petite Victoire 
1789-90
Jean-Baptiste Huet (designed), Louis-Marin Bonnet (engraved)
Bibliothèque nationale de France

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