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Home ›Studies› Feast of the Supreme Being at the Champ de Mars (20 prairial year II - June 8, 1794)
Title: Feast of the Supreme Being at the Champ de Mars (20 prairial year II - 8 June 1794).
Author : DEMACHY Pierre-Antoine (1723 - 1807)
Creation date : 1794
Date shown: 08 June 1794
Dimensions: Height 53.5 - Width 88.5
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage place: Carnavalet museum (Paris) website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bullozsite web
Picture reference: 02-005981 / P 0081
Feast of the Supreme Being at the Champ de Mars (20 prairial year II - 8 June 1794).
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz
Publication date: March 2016
The Alliance of Virtue and Terror
In the summer of 1793, the French Revolution went through a dark period: the country was severely affected by an economic crisis and social unrest, to which was added a civil war (Vendée insurrection and federalist revolt) and a series of military defeats at the borders. To this strengthening of the Terror, he added the establishment of a state religion in May 1794: the cult of the Supreme Being, in whose honor he organized lavish ceremonies on the following June 8.
The feast of the Supreme Being
This oil on canvas by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1723-1807), painter of history and excellent draftsman, provides a particularly interesting testimony to the unfolding of the feast of the Supreme Being at Champ-de-Mars, in Paris. A panoramic view of Champ-de-Mars enabled him to restore the scale and sumptuousness of the celebration: in the foreground is the people, whose gestures, meticulously depicted, reveal the joy aroused by the sight, in the second shot of a gigantic procession formed by representatives of the people followed by revolutionary soldiers and the republican guard. In the center, on a chariot pulled by four bulls, stands the allegory of the instruments of the arts and crafts and of the productions of French territory. This procession moves towards a sort of artificial rock - the "sacred mountain" par excellence - at the top of which rises the tree of Liberty, symbol of unity and collective adhesion to the Revolution, and a ancient column surmounted by a statue which brandishes a torch. In the background, on the left, the massive architecture of the Ecole Militaire evokes the urban setting in which this festival with its rustic and mythological looks fits. Thus, from this meticulous and skillfully elaborated composition emerges an impression of grandeur, but also of coldness which corresponds well to the spirit of the ceremony, whose haughty pomp and ancient ritual, strictly thought out in its smallest details, were intended above all to inspire amazement and to strike the imagination of the people, more spectators than actors.
The revolutionary cults of the year II
A fervent Catholic, Robespierre firmly opposed the acceleration of the process of de-Christianization that began in September 1792. For him, the vacuum left by the disappearance of Catholicism also risked disorienting the people, accustomed to its dogmas and its rites. This is why he strove to create an official religion, in conformity with the ideals of the Enlightenment and, in particular, with Rousseauist theories, which postulated the existence of a natural and universal morality and of an impersonal divinity, Being. supreme, creator of the Universe. Devoid of priests and sanctuaries, this new deist and patriotic religion nevertheless took on all the appearances of a cult. The feast of June 8, 1794 thus met with some success in France. It was only the culmination of a series of attempts by the Year II leaders to establish a revolutionary cult. Most of them aborted, these attempts testify to the complexity of the links which united the political sphere and the religious sphere, as well as the impossibility of eradicating all religious feeling. They were also the starting point of a civic religion whose developments marked the history of the Republic.
- Be supreme
- Robespierre (Maximilian of)
Philippe BORDES, Michel REGIS et alii To arms and the arts! The arts of the Revolution: 1789-1799 Paris, A.Biro, 1988. Mona OZOUF The revolutionary feast Paris, Gallimard, 1976. Jean TULARD History and dictionary of the French Revolution Paris, R.Laffont, 1987. Michel VOVELLE The Revolution Against the Church, the Dechristianization of Year II Brussels, Complex, 1988. Michel VOVELLE The French Revolution, 1789-1799 Paris, A.Colin, 1992. Gérard WALTER Maximilien de Robespierre reprint, Paris, Gallimard, 1989.
To cite this article
Charlotte DENOËL, "Festival of the Supreme Being at the Champ de Mars (20 prairial year II - June 8, 1794)"