Events

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy 14 July ("Bastille Day")

A somewhat belated joyeux 14 Juillet to all (as I had just returned from Prague)!



"SIEGE DE LA BASTILLE DEDIE AUX ELECTEURS DE 1789 PAR PALLOY PATRIOTE LORS DE LA RENTREE DE SA CHUTE A LA NATION," contemporaneous bronze copy of medal by Pierre-François Palloy (Hennin 18.26). As the text around the rim indicates, the original from which it was cast was made from the lead that secured the chains of the prison.



"SIEGE DE LA BASTILLE." "PRISE PAR LES CITOYENS DE LA VILLE DE PARIS LE 14 JUET 1789," by Bernard Andrieu (Hennin 23), in the first of what became his series of medals commemorating the chief events of the Revolution.




"Mais déjà l'indignation du Peuple contre la garnison de la Bastille, son impatient courage, ses menaces même, avoient forcé les Chefs militaires. On répétoit par-tout que le Peuple avoit été invité à approcher de la Bastille par des signaux de paix et d'amitié; et qu'au moment même où il étoit entré dans la première cour, le Gouverneur avoit fait faire sur lui deux décharges à mitraille.
"On demandoit à grands cris le siège de la Bastille, on vouloit du canon."
--from the account of the event in Procès-Verbal des Séances et Délibérations de l'Assemblée Générale des Électeurs de Paris Réunis à l'Hôtel-de-Ville le 14 Juillet 1789 . . . (Paris, 1790), I: 335.

Medals such as these were one of the first manifestations of the new cultural as well as political revolution, as what had been a royal monopoly suddenly entered the domain of both popular initiative and commerce. It is a commonplace that the Bastille was by this time a symbol rather than a practical tool of repression. Recent scholarship has explored that symbolism in some detail, though perhaps most innovatively as concerns the period after rather than before the fall of the prison. Rolf Reichardt and Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink offer a comprehensive and rigorous account in their The Bastille: A History of a Symbol of Despotism and Freedom. Simon Schama, despite (or perhaps because of) his skepticism about so many traits of the Revolution, offers (in a chapter of his Citizens, later adapted as a separate booklet), a characteristically engaging narrative of the events of July and the process by which "Patriot Palloy" turned the demolition of the structure and commemoration (or transfiguration) of its history into a personal as well as national enterprise, involving everything from souvenir relics to reenactments and traveling exhibits. Indeed, the Bastille became one of the first modern sites of stage-managed public memory, uneasily blending history, tourism, and hucksterism. In that sense, it is hardly a remote topic and, rather, set the tone for our own treatment of sites as diverse as the Berlin Wall and World Trade Center.

Resources:

French site on the holiday and its history

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