Marianne and the French Republic

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The United States have Uncle Sam, the UK John Bull, Australia Boxing Kangaroo and France the attractive Marianne. Present everywhere in the country, Marianne and the French Republic have been tied up since the French Revolution. The female figure is an allegory of liberty and reason and a representation of the Goddess of Liberty. Marianne is seen on the official government logo, on French euro coins and on French postage stamps.


The origins of Marianne

Marianne Freedom for France 3

The true story behind the name of Marianne is uncertain. The two names of Marie and Anne were very common during the 18th century, particularly in rural France and in the working class. Marianne is the amalgam of the names of Jesus’ mother (Marie) and grandmother (Anne).

A revolutionary song composed in the village of Puylaurens near Albi was entitled La Garisou de Marianno – the healing of Marianne. The song presumably dating from 1792, and composed by Guillaume Lavabre, a poet and a shoemaker, was the first to mention ‘Marianne’ as a symbol of the new Republic.

According to another version the first Marianne would have been modelled on Jean-François Reubell’s wife. On his visit in their home in Colmar, Alsace, French politician Paul Barras would have said of Mrs Reubell: “Votre prénom sied à la République autant qu’il sied à vous-même” (Your name befits the Republic just as much as it does yourself).

Marianne wearing the traditional Alsatian cap - painting in the town-hall of Kientzheim © French Moments

Marianne wearing the traditional Alsatian cap – painting in the town-hall of Kientzheim © French Moments


Marianne and Liberty

During the French Revolution the Republic was personified by two female figures: Liberty and Marianne.

Marianne is usually depicted as a beautiful young maiden and often leans on a fasces (a symbol of authority). She traditionally wears a red Phrygian cap (also named Liberty cap) ornate with a tricolour cockade (symbol of Freedom). The Phrygian cap refers to the pileus, the cap worn by emancipated slaves of Ancient Rome. In the 19th century the Phrygian cap was thought to be too revolutionary and Marianne was sometimes crowned with a laurel wreath. However on a few occasions Marianne has been represented as an angry warrior like in François Rude’s sculptural group at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.

The sculpted group of La Marseillaise by François Rude on the Arc de Triomphe © French Moments

The sculpted group of La Marseillaise by François Rude on the Arc de Triomphe © French Moments

Liberty is seen as more matronly and more modestly attired. As depicted in the Great Seal of France or in Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, Liberty wears a crown with arches.

Statue of Liberty on the Île aux Cygnes, Paris © French Moments

Statue of Liberty on the Île aux Cygnes, Paris © French Moments

Delacroix’ s famous representation of Liberty showing her décolleté and wearing a Phrygian cap resembles Marianne.

Eugène Delacroix - La liberté guidant le peuple


The symbolic attributes of Marianne

Marianne is the embodiment of the French Republic and was given various attributes that carry strong symbolic features borrowed from the Ancient Times and the Freemasonry.


Marianne and the Great Seal of France

Marianne appeared in 1792 on a new seal of the state decided by the National Convention.

Grand sceau de France


The official busts of Marianne

During the Third Republic (1871-1940) every town-hall in France acquired the official bust of Marianne. Since the end of World War Two, renowned sculptor have been commissioned by the State with the designing of new busts, using famous women of France as models.

Marianne took on the features of famous women: Brigitte Bardot (1968), Michèle Morgan (1972), Mireille Mathieu (1978), Catherine Deneuve (1985), Inès de La Fressange (1989), Laetitia Casta (2000), Sophie Marceau (2012)…

Bust of Marianne in the Town-Hall of Sigolsheim, Alsace © French Moments

Bust of Marianne in the Town-Hall of Sigolsheim, Alsace © French Moments


Marianne on the French Government Logo

In 1999 three national symbols of France were combined in a new logo: the Tricolour, the motto and Marianne. The federating identifier is used by the government and its ministries, the préfectures, embassies…

Marianne Logo


Representations of Marianne in stamps

Marianne appears on a great number of French post stamps.

Timbres Postes Marianne


Representations of Marianne in coins

Marianne is featured on the French euro-cent coins. (top)

She also appeared on the late French franc coins. (bottom)

Coins Marianne


Monuments featuring Marianne

Marianne is portrayed on famous monuments, two of them are found in Paris’ squares: Place de la République (statue by Léopold Morice) and Place de la Nation (statue by Jules Dalou).

Marianne on Place de la République © French Moments

Marianne on Place de la République © French Moments


Song about Marianne

In 1972 French singer Michel Delpech recorded a popular song entitled ‘Que Marianne était jolie‘ (Marianne was so beautiful) which directly referred to the allegoric figure of Marianne.


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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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