La République triomphante préside à la grande fête nationale du 14 juillet 1880

14 juillet 1880

© Centre historique des Archives nationales – Atelier de photographie

Peter Paul Rubens

Henri IV receives the portrait of his bride Maria de’Medici


oil on canvas

394 x 295 cm

Musée du Louvre

How have the representations of female figures throughout the centuries expressed the ideas of nation, kingdom, and eventually liberty and the republic in the French nation?  Before becoming a republic, France was a kingdom, frequently personified as a young woman. When the kingdom was lost to the violence of the Revolution, its image remained the same: the allegory of the young woman. Indeed, that same young woman, vigorous and beautiful, has remained as the personification of the nation.  In the Ancien régime, she was named France. During the Revolution and under the Republic, she was called alternately Liberty and Marianne. But her form has remained unchanged, with her uncovered breast, her heroic helmet, or Phrygian hat.  How did one symbol become such an important piece of national and iconographic heritage? What is the meaning behind her enduring power?  What is the message that each government or movement has attempted to convey through this symbolism ?