While this destruction went forward, many complaints were voiced in the Convention that the destruction of symbols glorifying the past was not being accomplished with sufficient rapidity or thoroughness. A decree of September 14, 1793, threatened dismissal to municipal officers who failed to perform their duty as prescribed by the first law for the destruction of monuments. In October, 1793, it was required that all symbols of the ancien regime were to be destroyed within eight days, upon pain of confiscation of the property where such symbols still existed. In the same month, the council of the Paris, Commune ordained that all “religious effigies” in the city be immediately destroyed; no statue other than that of “Sommeil” would be allowed to stand in the cemeteries, and all other sculptured representations would be delivered to the hammer.

In face of such legislative pressure, the Monuments Commission (which had been organized in 1790) was almost helpless. They were still responsible for the preservation of works of art, but the thirty-three members of the group were all residents of Paris; they served without pay; their official status was ambiguous, and, in any event, they could not possibly roam the face of France directing municipal officers to stop doing what the central government had instructed these municipal officers to do upon pain of loss of their civic positions. Indeed, the Committee of Public Safety actually called upon the Monuments Commission to destroy a part of what the commission had so carefully labored to preserve – the royal tombs at St. Denis. “These monuments of idolatry still nourished the superstition of some Frenchmen,” and within a month of the directive from the Committee of Public Safety some fifty of the tombs were destroyed under the direction of the Monuments Commission itself.

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


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