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In the time of the monarchy France, in fact the property of the House of France, was personified by the imago, that is a portrait in full official dress, of the king himself. This was on the obverse of the great seal of state on which the achievement of state was on the reverse: the crowned arms with the fleurs de lys supported by two angels symbolizing the heavenly mandate of the royal government.

After the abolition of the monarchy the people of France became its sovereign and it seemed obvious by the time to replace the imago of the king on the great seal of state by the imago of the people. For this it was fallen back on a very old tradition in which the people was represented by a young lady or virgin like in antiquity the goddess Athena was the personification of Athens. In its turn the personification Athena was a part of a tradition originating in Egypt and Mesopotamia where antropomorfic beings, carrying their attributes which illustrated their identities, personified social entities. These personifications are usually called ‘gods’ or  ‘godesses’ because they apparently were venerated in a sense.

In history Athena has found her successor in Roma and Constantinople and in this way there can be made a series of female personifications in which societies are personified by virgins through the ages. An ancient personification of Gallia for example dates from the 10th century but a more recent personification which was an example for the personification of the French republic was the Dutch Virgin dating from the 16th century.


Å Gallia. In a german manuscript named ‘The Kingdoms of the Empire pay Homage to Otto III” (about 1000 AD)


The Dutch Virgin  (before 1784)

Coll. Museum Sypesteyn, Loosdrecht.

The Virgin originally had a spear crested with a Hat of Liberty in her hand. She is supported by the Dutch Lion and the Republic. At her feet is a Holy Bible.


On the proposal of Abbé Gregoire, a member of the National Convention charged with the design of the seal of the Republic, the female figure as a personification of the Republic which would replace the imago of the king, received the name of ‘Liberté’ (Liberty) so that, thus abbé Gregoire, «afin que nos emblèmes, circulant sur le globe, présentassent à tous les peuples les images chéries de la patrie....» (our symbols will show our beloved images of the fatherland all over the world). For that goal she was equipped with a phrygian cap on a pole. On the seal she also supports a fasces symbolizing the Republic (the Commonwealth).

By decree of 15 August 1792 it was decided by the Nationa Convention:


Art. 6 Le sceau de l’Etat sera changé; il portera la figure de la Liberté, armée d’une pique surmontée du bonnet de la Liberté, et pour légende: Au nom de la nation française.


(Art. 6. The seal of state will be changed, it will show the figure of Liberty, armed with a spear crested with a cap of Liberty, and for legend: In the Name of the French Nation.)


After an amendment the legend was changed into  Au Nom de la République Française”.[1]


First Great Seal of State, 1792


The seal shows a virgin standing upright dressed in a classical chiton, holding a pole crested with a cap of liberty in her left and supporting a fasces, axe on the outside (as was obliged within the pomerium or boundaries of the city) and a rudder of state with her right.


This decree was renewed in 1848 and in 1870 but the personification was always called “Liberty”.


For the shape of the personification a contest was called which was also foreseen in the decree of 1792. Before, many artists and architects had tried to give shape to the revolutionary ideas and happenings. [2] It is not known how the contest ended. On the seal of 1793 there is still the ancient representation and this has been maintained until the 1st Empire. In 1848, after the Commune of Paris, a new contest was called. The winner of this contest was the sculptor Jean-François Soitoux. His statue was finished in 1850 but was only placed on the Quai Conti in 1880 where it remained until 1962. [3] 

La République

By J.F. Soitoux, Concours de sculpture de 1848.

(Cliché Bibliothèque Nationale after l’Illustration)


 Foto: CC BY-SA Marc Baronnet 2008.

The statue on its present location


The statue was from 1880 until 1962 on the Quai Conti. Since 1992 it is on the Quai Malaquais, Paris


The personification itself is nicknamed “Marianne”.

In 1792 the french poet-shoemaker Guillaume Lavabre made a poem in which France was represented as a sick woman with the name of Marianne. [4] The poem gives a short review of the happenings of the so-called second revolution of August 1792. How the allegory Marianne has spread from Occitania, where Lavabre lived, to the rest of France is not known. From 1850 the name Marianne was the  pass-word in the code-language of the Revolutionary (socialist) Societies. One of the best known societies was La Marianne of Trélazé. This society was at the cradle of the strike of the workers in the slate mines of Trélazé. This strike came extensively into publicity and so Marianne became also known all over France. From 1876 she is the official representation of France. She most of the time has a phrygian cap on her head.

The personification of France named Liberty and later nicknamed Marianne is represented in several forms:


1. Standing

2. Sitting

3. As a bust

4. As a head.


1. Standing


The Virgin is standing upright on the first great seals of state but also on early emblems of the armed forces.


Liberty on the façade of the Town Hall in Troyes.


Helmeted Virgin in classical dress, with her right supporting a fasces and in her left a spear crested with a cap of liberty (disappeared, the lower arm mounted wrongly). She tramples a monster with her left foot.

The motto UNITÉ INDIVISIBILITÉ DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE. LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ, FRATERNITÉ, OU LA MORT (Unity, Indivisibility of the Republic / Liberty, Equality Brotherhood or Death) is the motto of the Republic of 1793.

On a medal, 1793

Header of the Army in Italy, 1797


2. Sitting


The Virgin is sitting in early representations and on the box of the Great Seal of State. She is also sitting on the seals after 1848.


Statue of Liberty on the pedestal of King Louis XV, 1792


The inscription reads: Le peuple de Paris s’étant rassemblé avec un grand nombre de Savoisiens á la Place de la révolution ou on l’avoit placé la statue de la Liberté sur le piedestal de Louis XV on chanta un Hymne à la liberté a l’honneur de la liberation de des Savoisiens.


(The people of Paris having gathered with a large number of Savoisiens at the Place de la Revolution where the statue of Liberty had been placed on the pedestal of Louis XV, a Hymn to freedom in honor of the liberation of the Savoisiens was sung).



Statue of Liberty with crown of laurel and spear

On the pededestal of te statue of Louis XV., 1792


Personification of France

with crown of laurel and rudder of state. A rooster (France) at her feet. On the pedestal a cap of liberty between two fasces and the motto LIBERTÉ ÉGALITÉ in base

On paper money, 1792


In the time of the Directorate, 1795-‘99



On the box of the Great Seal of State, 1801


On the Diplom of the Legion d’Honneur, 1802

On the Great Seal of State, 1848


3. As a Bust


As a bust she can be found in every town hall in France. In the course of the more than two hundred years of the Republic she has undergone considerable changes of style.


Some Busts of Marianne



Musée d’Airvault, 1885


The new official bust of the Republic, 1891

Pending from her necklace medals of the emblem of the 3rd Republic.




Marianne 4ème République 1947

The shield tierced per pale Azure, Argent and Gules charged with the cross of Lorraine and crested with a rising sun radiant inscribed LIBERATION

Marianne 4ème République  1947

The shield tierced  per pale Azure, Argent and Gules and crested with a rising sun radiant inscribed LIBERTÉ ÉGALITÉ FRATERNITÉ






Æ See also google: Buste de Marianne


4. As a Head



1796 Dupré

1848 Dupré

1848 Domard

1848 F. Alard (contest winner)


1849 Stamp

1851 L. Merley

1851 E. A. Oudine

1870 F. Borrel


1899 J.C. Chaplain

1903 A. Patey

1932 P. Turin

1933 L. Bator


1935 A. Lavriller

1937 A. Morlon

1950 A. Morlon

1962 A. Griffoul


According to an announcement made on 12 March 1999 the Prime Minister (Lionel Jospin) authorised the use of a state logo to be used on all the documents of French ministries and administrations. It is:


Emblem: Per pale Azure and Gules, the head of the personification of France Argent


Legend: Republique Française


The emblem was created by the Information Service of the Government (SIG) under the direction of Bernard Canidard. The project was directed at the SIG by Nicole Civatte.


After a call in 1998 the creation of the logo was awarded to Audour Soum Agency with Evelyn Soum responsable for the project. The emblem was designed by Isabelle Bauret and it was tested by the public and state officials by Sofres before being distributed.

The official drawing of the emblem accompanied a circular letter signed by President Lionel Jospin dated 24 September 1999.


Æ See illustration in  the head of this essay



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© Hubert de Vries 2014-06-19; Updated 2018-10-19



[1] 1792 IX 3 = VIII 19 Decret relatif à la légende du sceau de l’Etat: Un membre propose de changer la légende du sceau de l’Etat, ainsi que celles de l’Assemblée nationale, des tribunaux, corps législatifs et municipalités. L’Assemblée nationale décrète la proposition, et renvoie au pouvoir executif pour les moyens d’execution. Les commis­sai­res inspecteurs de la salle sont chargés de veiller aux changements à faire sur les cachets de l’Assemblée nationale et des comités.

[2] Jourdan, A.R.M.: Les Monuments de la revolution Française. Le Discours des Images dans l’Espace parisien, 1789-1804. Diss. Amsterdam University 1993. 1. La figuration de la France. pp. 174-185.

[3] Allégories de la République. Le concours de 1848. Assemblée Nationale, Galerie, 1994.  Illustration, 27 janvier 1849.  Copie de la sculpture de Jean-François Soitoux, lauréat du concours de sculpture. Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée nationale.

[4] Valkhof, Hans: La Marianne. In: De Groene Amsterdammer 12 juli 1995 pp. 16-17. Based on the work of the french  istorians Laux, Christian: Republicains et conservateurs face à l’occitan dans le Tarn au XIXe siècle. In: Transitions, 1993, Vol. 97. 2 pp 299-318. and: Agulhon, Maurice: Marianne au combat. L’imagerie et la symbolique républicaines de 1789 à 1880. Paris, Flammarion, 1979.