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Women of the Arc - Mme Roland and Joséphine (G. Guillaume)


In this period of commemoration, a work is very interesting. Gildard Guillaume offers us in " the women of the Arc - Mme Roland and Joséphine »A parallel between the construction of the Arc de Triomphe and the life of two women represented on this monument, from the birth to the inauguration of the monument, through the upheavals of each person's life, but above all by pressing on the choice of these two ladies.

The Arc and Napoleon Bonaparte

Initially, Napoleon wanted to install a monument to the glory of the armies and their victories, on the Place de la Bastille, of imposing size, to see the double of the other arches present in Paris. Taking up too much space, Napoleon decreed that it be installed on Place de l'Etoile, the focal point of Parisians, taking care to establish a list of architects and artists selected for this work.

L’Arc, Louis XVIII and Charles X

When Louis XVIII returned to power in 1823, he gave another attribution to the Arc de Triomphe, which was to celebrate the victories of his nephew, the Duke of Angoulême Louis Antoine d 'Artois. With the advent of Charles X, there were endless discussions, reshuffles, changes of architects and artists, until a commission was created in 1825 to complete the Arc de Triomphe. Despite everything, discussions continued and dragged on from 1826 to 1828 on the choice of sculptures and artists to make them. A list of sculptors was finally drawn up in 1830.

L’Arc and Louis Philippe

Louis Philippe coming to power, wants the Arc de Triomphe to recall the capitals, the invaded cities, the battles won by France, and be a monument in honor of all the children of the country, but he cannot continue the construction of this monument. He has to face several revolts and disorders; not to mention that the responsible architect Huyot allows himself to falsify the accounts and to act as he pleases! He was finally revoked in 1832.

The task of the new architect Guillaume Blouet is immense: to restore order in the accounts, to comply with the first files established by Chalgrin, to "compose" with the Minister of Public Works A. Thiers, to wait until the requests are validated and decisions of Louis Philippe after 1835.

The monument

The monument is made up of four piers, therefore four reliefs. The eastern frieze of the entablature is the most important where 40 figures appear: 37 men, 2 women, 1 child. 37 male characters made up of 22 soldiers, 9 politicians, 5 artists and 1 child, the second child would be a girl, but all faithful to their original commitment.

The first woman on the left is Mme Roland, sitting on a rock, next to her husband, in her role as wife. There followed a series of great figures, from the generals of the Revolution to those of the Empire. The second woman on the right is Joséphine de Beauharnais, surrounded by her children, in her role as mother. In the background, we discover sculptors, poets, painters and composers.

The first stone was laid in August 1806. The frieze will be accepted in 1830. The inauguration will take place in July 1836 by an A. Thiers passing almost unnoticed, without speech, without hymn, without signature. A few days later, the Parisian people discovered the monument, protesting that a large number of battles and figures were not engraved on it. Of the 40 characters at the start, we will arrive at 697 names of heroes and 174 battles mentioned.

Sculptures under Louis Philippe

The sculptures have been commissioned since 1833, based on battles, great figures of the Revolution and Napoleon, such as "the capture of Alexandria", "the funeral of General Marceau" or "the battle of Jemmapes". Above these mostly anonymous soldiers is the entablature frieze, made up of the 40 figures. Under the direction of Blouet, Sylvestre Brun realizes the sculptures of the characters. This artist, who joined the French school in Rome, obtained the 1st Prize there in 1817.

The frieze is of perfect geometry. In the east, it is "the departure to the armies", with characters giving flags; in the west, it is "the return of the armies" where other figures hand over wreaths. The central part, facing the Champs Elysées, concerns the great figures of the Revolution up to the Empire. This is the essential part of the frieze where these sculptures are relatively similar.

The destination of the Arc de Triomphe

For the return of Napoleon's ashes in December 1840, A. Thiers orchestrated everything: passage of the funeral chariot under the Arc, stop between the pillars, fire salutes, military music and speeches. In July 1842, the coffin carrying the Duke of Orleans stopped between the pillars. In December 1852, Napoleon III proclaimed the Empire there, and the national holidays were celebrated there in 1863 and 1869. As there were always more people, the architect Haussmann was responsible for creating a circular square preserving the Arc. In May 1885, the remains of V. Hugo were also exhibited under the Arc.


Finally, in 1896, the Arc de Triomphe was declared a historic monument. Thus in July 1919, it became the temple dedicated to the prayer of survivors. Then in January 1921, the coffin of an anonymous soldier was installed in a low room of the monument and the flame was lit for the first time in November 1923.

The choice of two ladies

A list of women has been drawn up to appear on the frieze. It's like a morality inquiry for each of them. It includes a fruitwoman as well as women of letters, or feminists, as well as a governess of the children of France. But none of them have the right stature. However, two characters stand out: Mme Roland and Joséphine de Beauharnais. Mme de Genlis took care of the training and apprenticeship of the future Louis Philippe; she encouraged him to enter the Club des Jacobins, where he would meet Mme Roland. For him, Mme Roland was "a man of the Revolution, brought up with Rousseau".

The words of Madame Roland shortly before dying will certainly be decisive for the July Monarchy “you deem me worthy to share the fate of the great men you murdered; I will try to bring to the scaffold the courage they have shown. " Josephine, on the other hand, is worthy of being part of the frieze, having sacrificed herself during her separation from Bonaparte so that the Emperor could have offspring. It is the sacrifice of his life for France and the French. Ultimately the choice fell on Elles deux.

Although different (one is bourgeois, the other is an aristocrat; one is Parisian, the other is Creole; one studied a lot, the other did not appreciate books very much; one never betrayed her conjugal faith, the other abandoned herself to her senses; one is a woman of the Revolution, the other is a woman of the Empire), they have very strong common points: charm, seduction, learning at the convent, but above all sacrifice. Mrs. Roland sacrificed her mad love for Buzot, until she was delighted to join him after death. Joséphine sacrificed her marital life in the name of the duties towards the Fatherland. They are truly worthy of appearing in the midst of his Great Men.

Women of the Arc: Mme Roland and Joséphine, by Gildard Guillaume. La Bisquine, 2017.


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