As I read What French Women Know by Debra Ollivier, I was introduced to Marianne, a woman who has been reinvented many times since 1792 to represent French values. If I go into the Luxembourg Palace, home of the French Senate, I will see her bust which is rather regal.
However, I’m really looking forward to seeing her more feisty look in Eugene Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People which was painted in 1830. Debra Ollivier describes this depiction of Marianne: “There she is, our Gallic goddess storming the Bastille with bayonet in one hand and French flag in another, her frock unfurled and her bare breasts defiant against the onslaught of enemy fire.”
After the Reign of Terror, the Directory wanted Marianne to look less violent and more civil. Therefore, she no longer holds a pike or lance and she leans on the tablet of the Constitution of the Year III. However, she keeps wearing her Phrygian Cap. During the Second Republic, it was decided that Marianne should represent Liberty, the Republic and the Revolution. Therefore, two images of her were developed – one with a bare breast, still wearing her Phrygian cap, and arm raised fighting victoriously. Her other image is more sedate as she wears clothes from antiquity with sun rays around her head to represent the republic.
Even in the twentieth century, Marianne’s look continues to be reinvented even though the ideals remain consistent: Liberty, fraternity and equality. She graces every town hall and mayor’s office with her presence. Interestingly, since the middle of the twentieth century, she often looks like a French celebrity. In 1969, Marianne assumed the sex kitten Brigitte Bardot features, in 1985, she became the sophisticated and elegant but still sexy Catherine Deneuve. In 1999, for the first time, more than 36.00 mayors were allowed to vote who would be the next symbolic representation of France and the model Laetitia Casta won.