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Marianne busts with features of Brigitte Bardot - ? - ? - Catherine Deneuve - Mireille Mathieu
Marianne busts with features of
Brigitte Bardot - ? - ? - Catherine Deneuve - Mireille Mathieu
For the Tori Amos song see Marianne (1996 song).
For the Terry Gilkyson song see Marianne (1957 song).
For the Cliff Richard song see Marianne (1968 song).

Marianne, a national emblem of France, is a personification of Liberty and Reason. She is present in many places in France and holds a place of honor in town halls and law courts. She symbolizes the "Triumph of the Republic", a bronze sculpture overlooking the Place de la Nation in Paris. Her profile stands out on the official seal of the country, is engraved on French euro coins, and appears on French postage stamps; it was also featured on the former French franc coins and banknotes. Marianne is considered one of the most prominent symbols of the French Republic.

But who is this woman, depicted by artist Honoré Daumier as a mother nursing two children, or by sculptor François Rude as an angry warrior voicing the Marseillaise on the Arc de Triomphe? And where does she come from? One thing is certain: her image never leaves the French indifferent. During the last two wars, some people worshipped her like a saint. Others, those with anti-Republican leanings, often dragged her in the mud.



In classical times, it was common to represent ideas and abstract entities by gods, goddesses and allegoric personifications. Less common during the Middle Ages, this practice resurfaced during the Renaissance. During the French Revolution, many allegorical personifications of 'Liberty' and 'Reason' appeared. These two figures finally merged into one: a female figure, shown either sitting or standing, and accompanied by various attributes, including the rooster, the tricolore cockade, and the Phrygian cap. This woman typically symbolized Liberty, Reason, the Nation, the Homeland, the civic virtues of the Republic. (Compare the Statue of Liberty, created by a French artist, with a copy in Paris.)

Missing image
French postage stamp

In September 1792, the National Convention decided by decree that the new seal of the state would represent a standing woman holding a spear with a Phrygian cap held aloft on top of it.

Why is it a woman and not a man who represents the Republic? One could find the answer to this question in the traditions and mentality of the French, suggests the historian Maurice Agulhon, who set out on a detailed investigation to discover the origins of Marianne. Note also that liberté, égalité, fraternité and république are feminine words in French.

The use of this emblem was initially unofficial and very diverse. Marianne/Liberty makes an appearance in Eugène Delacroix's bravura political propaganda Liberty Leading the People (Louvre Museum), painted in July 1830, before the first rush of enthusiasm for Louis Philippe had time to cool. In 1848, the Ministry of the Interior launched a contest to symbolize the Republic. After the fall of the monarchy, the Provisional Government had declared: "The image of liberty should replace everywhere the images of corruption and shame, which have been broken in three days by the magnanimous French people." Two "Mariannes" were authorised: the one is fighting and victorious, recalling the Greek goddess Athena; the other is wise and serious. She made her first appearance on a French postage stamp in 1849. Later, during the Second Empire (1852-1870), this depiction was clandestine and served as a symbol of protest against the regime. The common use of the name "Marianne" for the depiction of the "Liberty" started around 1848/1851, with a generalization around 1875. It began to be more official during the Third Republic (1870-1940). The city hall of Paris displayed a statue of "Marianne" wearing a Phrygian cap in 1880, and was quickly followed by the other French cities.

Although common emblems of France, neither Marianne nor the rooster enjoys official status: the flag of France, as named and described in Article 2 of the French constitution, is the only official emblem.

Origin of the name

To begin with, why the name? Some people believe that the name came from the name of the Jesuit Mariana, the 16th century theoretician of tyranny. Others thought it was the image of the wife of the politician Jean Reubell, basing their belief on an old date.

According to an old story, its origins date to 1797, when, seeking a pleasant name for the Republic, Barras, one of the members of the Directoire, during an evening spent at Reubell's, asked his hostess for her name: "Marie-Anne," she replied. "Perfect," Barras exclaimed. "It is a short and simple name which befits the Republic just as much as yourself, Madame."

A recent discovery establishes that the first written mention of the name of Marianne to designate the Republic appeared in October 1792 in Puylaurens in the Tarn département near Toulouse. At that time, people used to sing a song in the Provençal dialect by the poet Guillaume Lavabre: 'La garisou de Marianno' (French: 'La guérison de Marianne'; 'Marianne's recovery').

At that time the account made of their exploits by the Revolutionaries often contained a reference to a certain Marianne (or Marrie-Anne) wearing a Phrygian cap. This pretty girl of legend inspired the sans-culottes and looked after those wounded in the many battles across the country.

The name of Marianne also appears to be connected with several Republican secret societies. During the Second Empire, one of them, whose members has sworn to overthrow the régime, had taken her name.


The Assemblée nationale decorated with 14 giant photographs of Modern Mariannes, Bastille Day 2003
The Assemblée nationale decorated with 14 giant photographs of Modern Mariannes, Bastille Day 2003

Today, Marianne remains as attractive as ever. She has even grown younger. The official busts, after having had anonymous features, began taking the features of famous women during the Fifth Republic: the first one was Brigitte Bardot in 1970, with the design of the sculptor Alain Gourdon, aka Aslan, who reportedly did so at first as a joke. She was followed by Mireille Mathieu (1978, Aslan again), Catherine Deneuve (1985), Inès de la Fressange, Sophie Marceau, and Laetitia Casta (2000).

Laetitia Casta was named the symbolic representation of France's Republic in a vote, for the first time open to the country's more than 36,000 mayors in October 1999. She won the vote from a shortlist of 5 candidates, scoring 36% among the 15,000 voting mayors. The other candidates were Estelle Hallyday, Patricia Kaas, Daniela Lumbroso and Nathalie Simon. Shortly thereafter, a mini-scandal shook France, after it was publicized that Casta – the new icon of the Republic – had relocated to London. Although she claimed that her move was motivated by practical professional reasons, the magazine Le Point, among others, suggested that she was trying to escape taxes, "following 250,000 other money-making Frenchmen who moved to the United Kingdom".

In 2002, a new Marianne was born. She does not have the features of a famous French woman but those of an anonymous beurette (young woman of North African descent), discovered by a scouting agent looking for a model who would symbolize a modern, multiethnic France.

In late 2003, Évelyne Thomas, a talk show host, was chosen as the new Marianne.

Note that although these figures are "official", there is no strict regulation governing the display of one over the other ones.

A new government logo

Missing image

Blue-white-red, Marianne, Liberté-Egalité-Fraternité, the Republic: these powerful national symbols represent France and its values. Since September 1999, they have been combined in a new "identifier" created by the French government of Lionel Jospin under the aegis of the French Government Information Service (SIG) and the public relations officials in the principal ministries. As a federating identifier of the government departments, it appears on a wide range of material – brochures, internal and external publications, publicity campaigns, letter headings, business cards, etc. – emanating from the government, starting with the various ministries (which are able to continue using their own logo) and the préfectures, decentralised government departments in the regions and départements.

The first objective targeted by this design is to unify government public relations. But it is also designed to "give a more accessible image to a State currently seen as abstract, remote and archaic, all the more essential in that French citizens express high expectations of the State".

This data was gathered from numerous interviews and consultations conducted by Sofres (a French survey institute) in January 1999, with the general public and public servants. It emerged that the French are deeply committed to the fundamental values of the Republic and expect an impartial and efficient State to be the guarantor of the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Related articles

See also

External links and references


  • Initial text and pictures from: [1] ( Copyright free according to the mention at: [2] (

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