L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Le Génie de la Liberté - La Colonne de Juillet, Place de la Bastille, Paris - by Auguste Dumont, 1833

La Colonne de Juillet (English: The July Column) is a monumental column in Paris commemorating the Revolution of 1830. It stands in the center of the Place de la Bastille and celebrates the Trois Glorieuses, the "three glorious" days of 27-29 July 1830 that saw the fall of King Charles X of France and the commencement of the "July Monarchy" of Louis-Philippe. The column is composed of twenty-one cast bronze drums, weighing over eighty-one and a half tons, and is one hundred and fifty-four feet high. The column is engraved in gold with the names of those who died during the July 1830 revolution, contains an interior spiral staircase, and rests on a base of white marble ornamented with bronze bas-reliefs. Over the Corinthian capital is a gallery sixteen feet wide, which is surmounted by a gilded globe on which stands a colossal gilded figure, Le Génie de la Liberté (the "Spirit of Freedom"), by Auguste Dumont. Perched on one foot, the star-crowned winged nude brandishes the torch of civilization and the remains of his broken chains. Formerly, the figure also appeared on French ten-franc coins.

The first nine images here are courtesy of the wonderful artist, collector, and antiques dealer Andrew Hopkins.

The monument was designed by the architect Jean-Antoine Alavoine, following a commission from the newly-minted roi des Français; the Place de la Bastille was officially selected as the site in March 1831, and Louis-Philippe placed a first stone on 28 July of that same year, the first anniversary of the revolution that brought him to power. A hymn with words by Victor Hugo and music by Ferdinand Hérold was sung at the Panthéon on the occasion. The column was inaugurated exactly nine years later, on 28 July 1840. Music composed for the occasion was Hector Berlioz' Grande symphonie funèbre et triomphale, which was performed in the open air under the direction of Berlioz himself, who led the musicians in a procession which ended at the Place de la Bastille.

View over the Faubourg Saint Antoine.

In the foundation, a columbarium was arranged to receive the remains of six hundred and fifteen victims of the July Revolution; a further two hundred victims of the Revolution of 1848 were later interred in the space. The throne of Louis-Philippe was symbolically burned at the base of the column in July of 1848.

A list of the dead whose names are inscribed on the column.


A vision of the completed fountain; work didn't progress this far. Water was never actually connected and the model, as built, differed in design. 

A first project for a commemorative column, one that would commemorate the fall of the Bastille three years before, had been envisaged in 1792, and a foundation stone was laid, 14 July 1792, but the project never got further than that. The circular basin in which the column's socle now stands was realized during the Empire as part of the L’éléphant de la Bastille (The Elephant of the Bastille), a planned fountain with a monumental sculpture of an elephant in its center. Work began in 1810. Four years later, a full scale model of the elephant was constructed, adjacent to the building site, but only completed in semi-permanent stucco over a wooden frame. The permanent bronze sculpture that had been planned was never finished due to financial constraints during the latter days of the Empire, and the model remained in place for more than thirty years, slowly mouldering. Many attempts were made to complete the project but no plan was ever finalized. By the late 1820's neighbors were complaining that it was infested with rats, and six years after the inauguration of the new column, the elephant was finally demolished. Victor Hugo famously eulogized the decaying beast in his Les Misérables.

The Place de la Bastille in 1837, the column under construction and the elephant still nearby.
The finished column in 1842; the elephant would linger for four more years.

Augustin-Alexandre Dumont, known as Auguste Dumont (4 August 180, Paris - 28 January 1884, Paris), French sculptor. From a long line of well-known sculptors, he was the great-grandson of Pierre Dumont, son of Jacques-Edme Dumont, and brother to Jeanne Louise Dumont Farrenc. In 1818, he began studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was a pupil of Pierre Cartellier. In 1823, he was awarded the Prix de Rome for his work, and went to study at the French Academy in Rome. In 1830, he returned to France. In 1853 he became a teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts. Ill health kept him from working after 1875.

A reduced copy of Le Génie de la Liberté in the collection of the Louvre.
Five more images courtesy of Andrew Hopkins.

1 comment:

  1. The Genie is so beautifully balanced. I remember reading about urchins sleeping inside the crumbling elephant in Les Miserables.