This attitude of hesitation between the preservation and destruction of art seemed swept away after the uprising of the Paris Commune in 1792. August 10, 1792, marked the collapse of the monarchy and the beginning of a torrent of iconoclasm which was to last for three years. Mobs stirred by the tocsin on August 10 roamed the city and tore down the monuments which had immortalized the “Capetian line.” Accompanied by the cheers of excited crowds, the statues of Henry IV, Louis XIII, XIV, and XV crashed to the ground. During the session of the Legislative Assembly on August 11 this destruction was noted with some dismay, but the legislators agreed that “nothing could be done to stop the wrath of the people.” It was decided to “uproot all royal prejudice,” and to “demonstrate to the people that the Assembly was aware of their regard for liberty,” by decreeing that all statues in Paris “erected in honor of despotism” be destroyed. Three days later a definitive law applicable to the whole nation was passed without opposition. The preamble to the decree made its general purpose – iconoclasm – quite clear; if the monarchy was to disappear, it was necessary that all its symbols disappear as well[:]

Whereas, the sacred principles of liberty and equality will not permit the existence of monuments raised to ostentation, prejudice, and tyranny to continue to offend the eyes of the French people; whereas, the bronze in these monuments can be converted into cannon for the defense of la patrie, it is decreed; I. All statues, bas-reliefs, inscriptions, and other monuments made of bronze or other metals, which exist in public squares, gardens, parks, public buildings . . . will be removed by the communes. [The second article provided for the conversion of this metal into cannon.] III. All monuments containing traces of feudalism, of whatever nature, that still remain in churches, or other public places, and even those in private homes, shall, without the slightest delay, be destroyed by the communes.

Stanley J. Idzerda, “Iconoclasm during the French Revolution” (1954)


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